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111 078 



The Rome Escape Line 



The Rome 
Escape Line 

The Story of the British Organization 

in Rome for assisting Escaped 

Prisoners-of-war 1943-44 



by 
SAM DERRY 




W W NORTON if COMPANY INC New Yorfc 



COPYRIGHT 1960 BY S. I. DERRY 



Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 60-10567 



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OP AMERICA 



Author's Foreword 

I wish to acknowledge the great help given to me by Mr Peter 
Lord in producing this book; for the very many hours he spent 
wading through documents, checking records, taking down 
pages and pages of shorthand notes, and his unfailing patience 
and enthusiasm in typing the script. 

This book has been written unbeknown tp Monsignor Hugh 
OTlaherty, C.B.E.: one of the finest men it has been my privi- 
lege ever to meet. Had it not been for this gallant gentleman, 
there would have been no Rome Escape Organization. I sin- 
cerely trust that nothing I have written will cause him any pain 
or embarrassment. 

I should also like to refer to the great debt of gratitude I owe 
to Lieutenant-Colonel John Furman, M.C. and Lieutenant- 
Colonel William Simpson, M.C. I fear no words of mine can 
adequately express my admiration of the wonderful work done 
by these two courageous officers during those months in enemy- 
occupied Rome. 

S. D. 
1960 



Contents 



Chapter Page 

1. Road to Rome 9 

2. Cabbages and Colonnades 24 

3. Two Tall Monsignors 36 

4. Underground Army 53 

5. No Red Tabs 72 

6. New Year Nightmare 94 

7. Ghost of the Vatican 1 10 

8. Homing Pigeon and Caged Lion 130 

9. Ides of March 150 

10. Denunciation 17 

1 1 . Thrust and Parry 189 

12. Open City 206 

13. Liberation 222 



Illustrations 

between pages 124 and 125 

The Author before his Desert Capture 

St Peter's Square, Rome 

Snapshot of Monsignor Hugh O' Flaherty in Rome 

The Author, Father Owen Snedden, and another 
Helper 

John May 

The German Pass acquired by the Author, and signed 
by the German Minister 

The Author and Father Owen Snedden, near St Peter's, 
Rome 

The Vatican Gardens 

Nancy Derry, the Author's Wife 

Lieutenant John Furman 

Lieutenant Furman's Note from the Regina Coeli 
Prison 

The Author's British Military Police Pass 

The Medallion presented to the Author by Pope Pius 
XII to commemorate his Audience 



1 



Road to Rome 



IHIS is madness, I thought, as the carriage door whipped open, 
and I plunged from the speeding prisoner-of-war train out into 
the Italian morning sunshine. I had jumped on the spur of the 
moment, and I still wince when recalling how the stony track 
rushed up to hit and bounce me, and then rose to hit me again, 
fearsomely close to the deafening roar and clanking of the car- 
riage wheels. The air was blasted from my lungs in a sudden, 
overwhelming flash of multi-coloured pain. 

I first touched the ground in an ungainly crouch, pitched for- 
ward, skidded on all fours, and, after an eternity of seconds, 
scraped to a spread-eagled halt, flat as a deflated inner tube. 

I lay waiting to be shot. 

Incredibly, inexplicably, the shots never came. Maybe if the 
German guards fired at all they did so while I was hurtling 
through the air and bouncing along the ballast. The north-bound 
train, with its nailed-in cargo of British prisoners-of-war, raced 
on towards Germany, the terrifying clatter of the iron wheels 
faded rapidly into a confused rumble, and then to blessed silence. 
Still only half aware of reality, but satisfied that I remained in 
one piece, I could scarcely believe my good fortune. I had broken 
every rule in the escape-book, and should have broken every 
bone in my body. 

Train-jumping was the gateway to freedom for many British 
prisoners during the Second World War, but it was a hazardous 
business from which satisfactory results came rarely if the rules 
were not carefully observed. I was better placed than most to 
know them, and if I had stopped to think before jumping I 
should probably not have chosen the moment when the crowded 
prison-train was blundering through the Appenine foothills at 
rather more than thirty miles an hour, but would have waited for 
it to slacken speed on a gradient; nor would I have jumped in 
the broad daylight of morning, with the friendly cloak of night 
still far ahead; nor while the train was in a deep cutting, with 
steep banks on either side, and no possibility of a dash for cover. 



10 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Moreover, I was inadequately clad for escape, without food, 
money, documents, maps, or even any clear idea where I was, 
and final folly I had jumped from the wrong side of the train 
that is, the side from which guards, leaning through windows, 
could the more easily raise their carbines and fire back along the 
line. 

By all the rules, if I avoided breaking my neck, I should have 
been peppered with bullets, or failing that, the best to expect was 
that the train would be stopped, and a detachment of unsympa- 
thetic guards sent to reclaim me. As it was, I was so grateful for 
my luck that I could overlook the hammer-blow pains and a 
violent stabbing sensation in the right leg. For the second time 
since falling into the German bag in February, the previous 
year, I was free again. I could hardly refrain from laughing 
aloud. 

After the night in a dim and airless railway compartment, the 
glare of the summer sun hurt, and I had to screw up my eyes, 
and shield them with an unsteady hand. I looked back along the 
track towards Sulmona, northward along the track towards Ger- 
many which I had said I would never reach, and along the 
tops of the embankments. Nowhere was there any sign of life or 
movement. 

Content in spite of the nagging pain in my leg, I dragged 
myself up the steep bank, and surveyed the Italian landscape, 
yellow and dusty green under a blue sky. It was farmland, but 
scrubby, and studded with the stony outcrops of the foothills, 
and, although I knew little of the Italian rural economy, it was 
fairly obvious that it would not be densely populated. The com- 
bination of few people and a certain amount of cover, in the 
form of rocks, bushes, and occasional copses, was promising, for 
while I was grateful to find myself in one piece, I realized that 
I was in no condition to travel far. With more bruises than I had 
ever collected on the pre-war rugby field, I felt rather as though 
I had been charged by a rhinoceros. 

Consequently the two miles of Italy over which I crawled in 
the next hour and a half were the longest I ever knew. The urge 
to stop and rest was almost irresistible, yet prison-camp caution 
prevailed, and I was never quite satisfied with the cover that 
presented itself. It seemed an age before I reached a small but 
relatively dense wood, which offered not onlv reasonable cover 



ROAD TO ROME II 

but also an interesting view of a little group of squat, flaking 
buildings, forming the centre of a peasant smallholding, on the 
rising ground above. Where there are people there is food; but 
escape is always largely a waiting game, so I settled as comfort- 
ably as possible among the prickly bushes, watched, and waited. 

So far as I had a plan at all, it was to head southward and 
link up with the Allied forces which had already landed in the 
toe of Italy. I thought I was on the road to reunion with the 
Allies, with the Gunners, and, perhaps, at length with my wife, 
Nancy, at home in Nottinghamshire. I supposed I would be 
posted 'missing' again, and wondered what she would think 
she, to whom I had so recently written plaintively, "What an 
end of three years' fighting, to be captured, especially after my 
luck. . . ." But the road on which I had embarked so impetu- 
ously that morning did not take me either towards the front line 
or towards Nancy; I was on a strange road to Rome. 

In the scrubby wood, with sunny shafts slanting like theatrical 
spotlights down through the branches on to the leggy ants that 
marched and counter-marched with pointless determination 
round where I lay, my only desires for the immediate future were 
food, drink, and a bottle of embrocation. To plan further ahead 
was useless, but I had ample time to reflect as I lay and waited 
for the sunlight to surrender to the dusk; escapers are creatures 
of the night. 

As a Territorial officer in the Royal Artillery, I had gone to 
France with the woefully inadequate British Expeditionary Force 
on the outbreak of war, and, thanks to the gallantry of big men 
with little ships and my own good fortune, had emerged un- 
scathed through Dunkirk. After the fall of France the only land 
front on which Britain remained in engagement with the enemy 
was North Africa, so I was not surprised to find myself a Desert 
Rat. In the early days, before General Rommel's Afrika Korps 
joined the unwarlike Italians, there was a peculiar swashbuckling 
charm about the way in which a little British Army fought its 
way up and down the narrow coastal strip that confined the ebb 
and flow of the desert war. But as 1941 wore on, the increasing 
number of Germans on the sand added a new element of grim- 
ness to the North African campaign, and at the beginning of 
1942, after a misunderstanding with the infantry 'screen,' my 
battery was overrun, and I found myself 'in the bag.' 



12 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

It was my first experience of being a prisoner, and I did not 
care for it, but escape proved almost too easy. Probably the Ger- 
mans had never expected to make such an impressive haul of 
prisoners at one go, and consequently supervision of the de- 
pressed Englishmen herded together near the ^dge of a wadi 
an ancient river gorge, long dried up was well below the usual 
Nazi standards of efficiency. Since I was the officer who had 
chosen that site as a defence point, I had a pretty thorough 
knowledge of the local geography, and it seemed that if I could 
only get into the deep wadi there would be a sporting change of 
escaping. 

After obliging a questioning German intelligence officer with 
my rank and name, I worked my way through the group of 
prisoners, almost inch by inch, as near as I could to the edge of 
the ravine, and then made a dash for it. My luck held good, and 
although the guards opened fire, there was enough desert scrub 
to provide cover, and in 200 yards I had reached the steep edge, 
and was over. Rolling and sliding down the slope, I reached the 
bottom in a flurry of sand and small stones right beside the 
barely visible entrance of a tiny cave. I shot into it like a rabbit, 
squeezed all six-foot-three of me into its comforting darkness, and 
lay there panting, and feeling pretty pleased with myself. The 
Germans could not send vehicles down, and if they spared a few 
of their infantry guards there was still a good chance of evading 
discovery. In fact, the Germans lost interest in me with unflatter- 
ing rapidity, and the spasmodic rifle-fire and shouting from above 
ceased almost before I had regained my breath. 

I remained until dusk, and then, guided by the stars, jog- 
trotted along the wadi and over the desert for eighteen miles 
before catching up with the Allied rearguard and coming close 
to being shot by an alert Scottish highlander. If this is escape 
there is not much to it, I thought, but I was to learn that it is not 
always so simple. For, after a few more minor battles, I was cap- 
tured again the following July, when we were overtaken by a 
German motorized unit while foot-slogging back to the last-ditch 
defence line at El Alamein. This time my luck had gone off duty, 
because we had seen the vehicles from afar, and had taken cover 
behind boulders, but the Germans had decided to camp near 
by for the night and to dig their latrines right in the middle of 
the group. 



ROAD TO ROME 13 

Bundled into a captured British ambulance, I was confronted 
by a blue-scarfed German officer, who remarked in surprisingly 
good English, "I seem to have seen you before weren't you near 
Derna a few months ago?" This was the sort of question often 
posed in an attempt to extract information, but my routine non- 
committal reply produced a sardonic grin of disbelief from the 
German. 

"Oh, yes, you were," he retorted. "You are Major Deny, of 
the First Field Regiment." 

There was no point in further denial, for five months after my 
first capture, 800 miles away, I had been retaken by the very 
same German unit, and was now being interrogated by the same 
intelligence officer. 

We spent the rest of the time in the ambulance, chatting quite 
cosily, for he had spent most of his pre-war summers in the Isle 
of Man, as a T.T. rider for one of the German motor-cycle manu- 
facturers. 

We drove, eventually, north-west to Matruh, and hopes of 
making another dash for liberty declined when I was put into a 
strong prisoner-of-war cage, which we ourselves had built earlier, 
and as, stage by stage, we moved towards the west, escape chances 
seemed hourly to become slimmer. Finally, in an ancient transport 
aircraft, a number of us were flown across to the Italian mainland. 
We were not provided with parachutes, and it was an unnerving 
experience for British officers, who knew how thoroughly Royal 
Air Force Hurricanes and Beaufighters were sweeping the nar- 
row sea-lane between Africa and Sicily. Ironically, at a time 
when hardly any of the German supply planes were getting 
through to the hard-pressed General Rommel, this ancient trans- 
port machine, with its load of unproductive mouths for the Axis 
to feed, waddled safely to Lecce, in Southern Italy. Since I had 
not been prepared to wager on our making landfall at all, I was 
happy enough to have both feet on the ground again, even on 
enemy soil. 

On the other hand, escape now was clearly going to present 
considerable problems, and although I could not discover the 
ghost of an opportunity at the transit camp at Bari, I was de- 
lighted to discover on arrival at the enormous P.G.2I at Chieti 
that I need no longer be a lone wolf. The camp, the largest of its 
kind in Italy, contained 1200 officers, and most of them seemed 



14 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

to be engaged in some form of activity aimed at escape. They 
were linked together in a remarkable organization, which could 
provide anything from cash, clothing, and 'official* passes to iron 
rations and train timetables. The versatility of the organization 
sprang from the wide range of experience and interest of its vast 
membership, which represented a complete cross-section of 
British life spiced by the inclusion of a few celebrities like 
Freddie Brown, the England Test captain and manager, and 
Tony Roncoroni, the English Rugby international, and Phillip 
Gardner, London's first V.C. of the war. 

Eventually, I became a member of the escape committee, which 
co-ordinated all the getaway plans, and was assigned the task 
an incongruous one for a large gunner with a civilian background 
of building and water-engineering of securing the provision of 
rations for escapers and tunnel-builders. This work involved the 
construction, from condensed milk, biscuits, chocolate, and other 
unlikely ingredients discovered in Red Cross parcels, of small 
hard-tack cakes, which were as tough as teak, and tasted like 
sweetened sawdust, but were so high in nutriment that a man 
could cany food for a fortnight in one pocket. It was unfamiliar 
work, but it brought me into touch with many aspects of escape 
organization that I had never dreamed existed, and it did not 
take long to learn that escaping from Europe involved much more 
than making a dash for it, and setting a hopeful course under the 
stars. 

I might have remained a minor and insignificant member of 
the organization but for an unexpected development in the spring 
f Z 943* The entire population of the camp was turned out on 
parade in the middle of the night. At first nobody was much con- 
cerned, since that sort of thing had happened before, sometimes 
because the guards were in a panic and wanted to make a snap 
roll-call, and sometimes, we suspected, merely for the pure hell 
of it. On this occasion a disconcerting difference became clear 
when the Italian guard commander read out a list of the names 
of officers who were to be transferred from the camp in an hour's 
time a list that included most of the senior officers and all the 
principal members of the escape committee. 

Still relatively the new boy, I was not named, and immediately 
after roll-call the Senior British Officer, Colonel Marshall, sent 
for me, and commanded, "Deny, I want you to take over the 



ROAD TO ROME 15 

escape committee as from now. You've only got an hour to find 
out all you need to know from the others, so you'd better get 
cracking." 

"Very good, sir," I replied, feeling the situation was anything 
but that 

In a flurried fifty minutes I chased round all the members of 
the shattered committee as they gathered together their blankets 
and biscuit-tins full of the pathetic possessions that in a prison 
camp become a man's greatest treasures and the sole surviving 
indications of his individuality. 

As the dust settled behind the departing lorries I was left with 
a nagging worry, for the membership of the escape committee 
was something that the Italians would have been unlikely to dis- 
cover unaided : somewhere among Chieti's caged hundreds there 
must be a traitor. It was unwise to permit major escape activity 
until this leak had been checked, so I asked the new committee to 
direct all its immediate efforts towards the unmasking of treachery. 
The inquiry continued for weeks, and we were never wholly 
successful, although all investigations seemed to lead to the camp 
sick-quarters, where several non-commissioned Allied prisoners 
were employed. 

My own suspicion fell most heavily on the small dark frame 
of a multi-lingual private named Joe Pollak, a Cypriot of Czech 
extraction, who was f requently in animated conversation with the 
Italian guards, and was apparently on good terms with them. 
Pollak, who mixed little with the other prisoners, probably knew 
that he was under observation, but remained always enigmatic 
and inscrutable and continued to chat with the guards in his 
flawless Italian. Apart from that, he never put a foot wrong, so 
we had to treat the whole of the hospital as a potential hot-bed 
of spies, and issued firm instructions that no information about 
escape activity, however trivial, should be allowed to drift in that 
direction. 

That done, the committee set about the complete re-organiza- 
tion of the camp's escape system. The basic plan was one of mass- 
production, and from that time there were never fewer than six 
escape tunnels under construction at a time. Whenever the 
probing guards discovered the beginnings of one, as they did 
occasionally, in spite of the ingenuity of sapper officers in creating 
concealed entrances, another was started at once. 



l6 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

As the work progressed I became convinced that the natural 
corollary to mass-production was mass-escape, for obviously the 
discovery of one successful tunnel after a break-out would jeopar- 
dize all the others that were near completion. So the orders went 
out to the sweating teams of troglodytes, who spent their days 
entombed, scraping at the dry earth with primitive tools or even 
with their hands, that work on each tunnel was to be stopped at 
the point where it could open up on the far side of the walls and 
the wire at short notice. The theory was that if half a dozen 
tunnels could burst through the surface simultaneously a large 
number of prisoners might be able to make their way to freedom 
before the alarm was raised. 

At one stage I became hopeful that the tunnels, with all their 
appalling difficulties for men below and above the ground we 
had to cultivate enormous vegetable gardens to dispose of the 
excavated earth might never be needed at all, for over the secret 
radio-receiver, maintained by the organization in one of them, 
came the welcome news that the Allies had overrun Sicily, in- 
vaded Italy, and precipitated the fall and arrest of Mussolini, the 
Fascist dictator. The invading armies were still hundreds of miles 
south of Chieti, but it seemed quite possible that the Italian guards 
might desert, and leave the way open for a mass walk-out 
which, in fact, is what did happen at a number of camps. 

But the vital information which the secret radio did not give 
was that the whole area around Chieti was swarming with crack 
German paratroops, dropped, in an audacious plan by Hitler, to 
rescue Mussolini, then held by the new civil authorities in a hotel 
among the hills to the west of the camp. This daring raid was 
successful, and Mussolini was flown off to the north in a light 
German aircraft. But the highly trained paratroops remained 
and took over control of P.G.2I. Without warning, our Italian 
guards were suddenly replaced by humourless and grimly efficient 
Germans, and although escape preparations went on, there was 
a new, wary alertness in the air, which made men jumpy and 
cautious even with their friends. 

We realized that the change meant we were all destined eventu- 
ally for transfer to Germany. Early in September the tough new 
guards suddenly ordered the evacuation of 400 prisoners, but did 
not specify names, and the escape committee were able to select 
for the transfer men who were not already 'detailed' to escape. 



ROAD TO ROME 1J 

There was barely time for us to congratulate ourselves on thus 
preserving the structure of the escape organization before the 
Germans ordered the evacuation of a second 400. That con- 
vinced me that no further time could be lost if escape prepara- 
tions, already more or less complete, were to serve any useful 
purpose, for it was now clear that the entire camp was soon to be 
evacuated. 

The long-planned mass-escape scheme was brought into im- 
mediate operation, and that same evening, by the time the bunga- 
low lights went out and the machine-gun-tower searchlights 
started their restless probing, the five tunnels that were ready to 
break the surface were crammed with prisoners, all fully equipped 
for life in a hostile land. At the heads of the narrow tunnels five 
men, their hair, ears, and eyes clogged with dust, painfully scraped 
away the last bulwark of earth. Almost simultaneously five small 
holes appeared outside the walls, and all forty-six men who had 
been entombed got clean away into the night. 

So far as we could ascertain next morning, the Germans never 
missed them, and had no idea of the existence of the tunnels. 
Probably in the first place they had not been given very precise 
figures for the population of the camp when they took it over 
from the Italians. At all events, when the rest of us were evacu- 
ated later in the day the Germans lost a few more prisoners, in- 
cluding some who were sealed in incomplete tunnels, and one 
group who spent three days hidden in the camp water-tower. 

To me, the breaking up of the Chieti camp seemed tragic, for 
many more successful escapes could have been accomplished, in- 
cluding my own. I would have given much to occupy one of the 
escape 'billets' in which we left some of our comrades, but we 
had already decided, at our emergency meeting of the committee, 
on a firm rule of precedence, allocating all available places to the 
men who had done the physical work of making them. So, with 
the last batch of prisoners to leave, I made the journey to our new 
camp at Sulmona, carrying our precious secret radio rolled in my 
blanket. It gave it an odd, angular shape, but failed to attract un- 
welcome attention. 

The first look around the new camp was depressing. Rocky 
soil ruled out tunnels and even 'hidey holes, 5 and, after discussing 
the problem from all angles, the escape committee had to advise 
the prisoners that only ground-level escapes seemed to have much 



l8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

chance of success. It was a tribute to the ingenuity and enterprise 
of the prisoners that two or three audacious bluffs did, in fact, 
succeed, though not my own, thanks to the intervention of a 
Senior British Officer. 

I had not been long at Sulmona before I noticed that the 
guards were paying scant attention to the horse-drawn rubbish 
cart, which periodically took away the camp's refuse. One day I 
clambered aboard, and, reckoning myself least conspicuous if 
most obvious, sat comfortably on top of the mountain of rubbish, 
trying to look as much as possible like an Italian peasant. The 
cart attracted even less attention than usual as it rumbled gawkily 
through the gates, for the guards were fully occupied with the 
Senior British Officer, who was arguing vociferously with them 
about some small administrative technicality. My troubles were 
almost over, when the S.B.O., raising his eyes towards heaven 
in a moment of exasperation, found himself looking up at one of 
his own officers, seated like a ragged monarch on a mouldy 
throne. 

He boggled. "Where the devil are you going, Deny?" he de- 
manded. 

I gave the only possible answer in broad basic English, and 
climbed down. 

From the start, we had all realized that Sulmona was likely 
to be only a staging-point, and that our ultimate destination was 
Germany. When, therefore, the order for evacuation came it was 
not really a surprise. But we were not prepared for the additional 
order that we should march to the railway-station. This was 
tragic, because it meant that valuable escape equipment had to 
be left behind. I had to abandon practically all my personal 
possessions to make room in my blanket roll for the vital wireless- 
set on which we all depended for our news of the war's progress. 
Periodically, during the long march, the radio protruded in- 
quisitively from one end or other of the blanket, but I was not 
unduly perturbed, because I knew that the Germans guarding us 
were front-line soldiers on their way home on leave. While they 
were no doubt formidable fighting men, they were unlikely to be 
very familiar with the wiles of prisoners-of-war. On the other 
hand, they might be inclined to be trigger happy, so that any 
open attempt at escape could become a short cut to eternity. 

This assessment of our guards proved to be right, for while 



ROAD TO ROME 19 

they never gave a second glance at the guilty bundle under my 
arm, they all seemed to fire at once when one of our group made 
a bolt for it at Sulmona station. Captain Jock Short covered only 
twenty yards, in his suicidal bid for freedom, before he crumpled 
and fell, riddled with bullets. He would not have been more 
efficiently shot if he had stood before a firing-squad. 

Subdued, most of the prisoners were herded into closed box- 
cars, and sealed in, but, with other officers of field rank, I was 
thrust into a third-class compartment a subtle class distinction, 
which had the advantage of comfort and sanitation, but the 
corresponding disadvantage of surveillance by an armed guard. 
I would not have given much for the chances of getting out of 
one of the unguarded box-cars, but escape from my compart- 
ment looked little more promising. After what had happened to 
Captain Short, there was no reason to doubt that the guards were 
prepared to shoot to kill. 

Yet I could still think of nothing but escape. From the first 
turn of the wheels towards Germany, in the small hours of the 
morning, I became increasingly restless, oppressed by the con- 
viction that getting away from the Germans was no longer merely 
a personal desire, but also a matter of honour : I felt, however 
irrationally, that the officers herded into the stinking, airless box- 
cars would expect me, as leader of the escape committee, to make 
my break, if only to avenge in some small measure the death of 
their comrade. 

I found myself popping up and down in my seat like a jack-in- 
the-box, unable to think reasonably of anything except what the 
rhythm of the wheels was thumping through my ears, I must get 
away ... I must get away . . . Once or twice I even found myself 
muttering it aloud. 

As the determination to escape became more and more in- 
sistent, so I grew less and less capable of working out any method 
of achieving it. So far as I could think constructively at all, I was 
striving desperately to estimate the speed and position of the 
train, as it grumbled over the Apennines into the western foot- 
hills and into daylight. 

There was still no plan of any sort in my mind when at about 
8.30 A.M. I asked for permission to use the toilet, and was accom- 
panied by a burly unshaven paratrooper, carrying a carbine, to the 
end of the coach. Possibly I wanted to leave the compartment 



2O THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

only because of sheer impatience and frustration, and certainly 
I was in no way prepared for an escape attempt, I had not rested 
for a moment through the interminable night, I was wearing 
only a shirt, trousers, and shoes, and all my food and remain- 
ing escape equipment were still with the wireless-set and my 
outer clothing in the luggage-rack. 

I looked round the toilet compartment, cursing my inability 
to escape from it. It had one door, outside which stood the armed 
guard, and one window, boarded up, and far too small to offer 
any scope to a man of my size. 

Frustrated, and forced to abandon hope from that smelly 
prison, I opened the door to face the guard and in that instant 
stopped thinking and started acting. 

Instead of turning towards my seat, I side-stepped the German 
with the sort of manoeuvre that sometimes works wonders on the 
Rugby field, and threw myself in the opposite direction. I was 
across the carriage in a single bound, and, without stopping to 
think how small were the chances of success (or even survival), 
I flung open the main door, and jumped out into the sunshine. 
Later, as I recalled the surprising violence with which sun-baked 
Italy had come up to meet me, I knew why it was called hostile 
territory. 

After a long day in the woody bed of an erstwhile stream, the 
multitude of sharp pains gave way to one all-pervading ache, and 
although I still felt as if my whole body was held together by 
rotting string, I knew, at least, I was now capable of hobbling 
down to the peasant smallholding that I had kept under obser- 
vation throughout the day. The only occupants seemed to be an 
old man, a woman, and a couple of children, which was about 
as harmless a combination as could be expected. Even so, a direct 
approach to the house had its dangers. However, I had to have 
food, drink, and a place to rest in reasonable security for a few 
hours, before making any attempt to travel farther. 

When day became dusk with the suddenness of southerly lati- 
tudes I struggled to my feet, and limped slowly up the gentle 
slope towards the farm, rehearsing all the way the short speech 
carefully learned while still at Chieti. As I neared the house the 
old man and the women emerged, and caught sight of me. They 
stopped in their tracks, and stared at me with a look of incredulity 
which swiftly froze into one of terror. 



ROAD TO ROME 21 

I was not prepared for this. While realizing that I was a bit 
of a giant by Italian physical standards, I had overlooked the 
possibility that after the battering I had received, in my leap from 
the train, I might appear to be a rather fearsome giant, with 
tattered, dusty shirt and bruised, bloodstained, and unshaven 
face. 

Spreading out my hands to show that I concealed no weapon, 
I twisted my face into what I hoped was an ingratiating smile, 
and in halting Italian announced that I was British, and asked 
for food and drink. 

"Buona sera, signore, signora," I stammered. "Sono inglese. 
Per favore, mi dia pasto, bevanda." 

Their reaction frightened me. The old man's mouth and eyes 
opened wide, in an expression of blank horror, and the woman 
threw up her hands, closed her eyes, and emitted a shrill little 
scream. Glumly I wondered what I had said. 

For a moment there was silence, and then the man and the 
woman faced each other, and, both talking at once, released a 
stream of rapid Italian, accompanied by energetic gesticulations. 
My tiny vocabulary of their language was not sufficient to give 
me even the gist of what they were shouting about, but I was 
becoming increasingly worried that I had blundered. 

Reports from our secret radio had made it clear that the re- 
lationship between the Italians and the Germans had been 
strained since the fall of Mussolini's Government, and had even 
suggested that the majority of the Italian people were anxious to 
help the Allies, but the escape committee had always recom- 
mended that this assumption should be treated with reserve, and 
that escapers should avoid making direct approaches to Italians 
whenever possible. I began to wish that I had followed more 
closely the advice that I had helped to formulate, but it was 
too late now to change my tactics. I needed food and drink, 
and I was painfully aware that I was in no state to turn and 
run. 

What the Italians were saying remained incomprehensible to 
me, but, as the noisy minutes wore on, it seemed that they were 
becoming distinctly calmer. Almost as abruptly as they had 
started, the Italians stopped shouting at each other, and turned 
their attention back to me without, to my surprise and relief, 
any apparent hostility. Indeed, I realized that the old man was 



22 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

waving to a near-by straw stack, and indicating, by a mixture of 
gesture and monosyllable, that I should go and hide in it. 

"Si, si, signore, grazie," I said, as soon as I got the gist of what 
he was trying to tell me. 

Hobbling to the stack, I hauled myself awkwardly to the top, 
and lay back gratefully on the straw, but I was still by no means 
sure of my hosts, and after they had gone in I watched the house 
carefully, expecting every minute to see one or the other of them 
setting off to the nearest village, to report my arrival. When the 
two reappeared they remained together, approaching the stack, 
and, with a surge of anticipatory delight, I could see that they 
were bringing food. Gratefully I ate the dry bread and formaggio 
SL pungent cheese made from sheep's milk which they handed 
up to me, and even more gratefully I observed that their ex- 
pression as they watched me was sympathetic and, indeed, almost 
benign. 

Much as I welcomed this apparent change of heart, I was 
taken by surprise when I realized that the old man was trying 
to invite me into the house for the night. I came to the conclusion 
that their original fear had been that I was a German agent, who, 
after inducing them to help, would denounce them, but I still 
had no particular desire to go into the house. In the first place 
it would put them in unnecessary peril, for while I remained out- 
side they could always pretend they did not know I was there; 
secondly, and more selfishly, I realized that the chance of escape 
in emergency was greater from my straw stack than from within a 
building with only one narrow door. The escape committee had 
always advised, "Keep out of people's houses if there is any alter- 
native," and, so far as I could judge, the straw stack offered a 
very reasonable alternative. 

"No, grazie," I replied, smiling modestly, as though to suggest 
I could not possibly put them to so much trouble. They seemed 
quite satisfied, smiled, bade me "Arrivederci," and retreated to 
the house, bolting the door audibly behind them. 

Burrowing a little into the straw, I slept. If the Italians had 
wished to denounce me that night my recapture would not have 
been difficult, for I was utterly exhausted. I was so stiff when I 
woke that I soon realized a continuation of my journey that day 
was out of the question, but I was so delighted to find myself alive 
and free that I did not feel inclined to complain. 



ROAD TO ROME 23 

My hosts, who by now seemed to accept me as unconcernedly 
as if I were just another addition to the livestock around the farm, 
brought me drink and variations of pasta at intervals, and for 
most of the remaining time throughout that day and the follow- 
ing night I simply relaxed on the welcoming straw and slept, 
trying to will myself back to fitness. 

The absence of physical and even mental effort proved to be 
rapidly recuperative, and when I awoke the next morning I could 
feel at once that my strength had returned. I sat up, then stood, 
and for the first time really surveyed my surroundings. My van- 
tage-point commanded a magnificent panorama, from the roll- 
ing Apennine foothills, only two or three miles away in the east, 
to the distant horizon of the west, flat, and unbroken save for 
occasional neat squares of olive-trees and 

I narrowed my eyes, to see better through the slight morning 
haze that broke the far horizon into a misty, shimmering line. 
There was no doubt about it : there, in the distance, perhaps more 
than fifteen miles away, only just discernible above the horizon, 
yet gleaming startling white in the light of the mounting sun, was a 
great, graceful dome. It was a dome which, I knew, although I 
had never seen it before, had no equal in all the world. Until this 
moment I had been without any clear idea of where in Italy I 
was, but there could be no mistaking that spectacle it was the 
majestic, soaring dome of St Peter's, Rome. 

From the top of a straw stack, in a remote peasant smallhold- 
ing, I was getting my first glimpse of the fabulous Eternal City. 
I could not help grinning to myself at the incongruous thought 
that this might be all I should ever see of it, for I intended to go 
southward to war, not eastward to Rome. 

Yet Fate smiled too, for within minutes she had turned my 
footsteps towards Rome. 



2 



Cabbages and Colonnades 



JM Y first glimpse of timeless Rome, shining in the morning sun- 
light, gave me a thrill, yet I viewed the distant dome with mixed 
feelings : it was an advantage to know within a few miles where 
I was, but it was disturbing to be so close to the capital city of an 
enemy country. I felt it would be as well to put as many miles as 
possible between Rome and myself, and decided to set course 
southward as soon as the daylight faded. But scarcely had I begun 
to plan the excursion when there came an unexpected develop- 
ment 

My Italian host and hostess suddenly appeared beside the straw 
stack, beaming with excitement, and chattering away simultane- 
ously, as usual, in a language of which I knew no more than a 
dozen stock phrases. When at last I managed to convince them 
that I did not understand they did what so many of us do under 
similar circumstances : they repeated it all over again twice as 
loudly. 

Gradually I began to understand, though by what means I am 
not sure, unless it was some form of telepathy, that they were try- 
ing to tell me there were other British prisoners-of-war in hiding 
among the hills only a couple of miles away, and that guides could 
be arranged to take me to see them. No longer suspicious about 
the goodwill of the two Italians, I agreed to make the trip to the 
hills, though not until nightfall. This meant that any journey to 
the south would have to be deferred for at least twenty-four hours; 
but the other escapers might possess more local information, and 
a pooling of ideas would be all to the good. 

The guides, who presented themselves at dusk, turned out to 
be two engaging black-haired, brown-eyed, bronze-skinned boys, 
one about eleven and the other a couple of years older, who 
treated the whole enterprise as an exhilarating adventure, and 
were in much better physical condition for a long walk than I 
was. 

Keeping up with them as well as I could, cursing when I fell 
into the ruts or tripped over stones which they nimbly and ex- 



CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 25 

pertly side-stepped or jumped, I followed for more than an hour 
across the agricultural plain and into the foothills. Our walk 
became a climb, gradually steeper and steeper, earth gave way to 
rocks, the path to a barely discernible track, until suddenly I 
found myself among a warren of tiny caves, staring like blind, 
black eyes beneath the furrowed brow of the hill. But other eyes 
were staring too the eyes of a dozen men standing around in 
the gloom. It was with a slight sense of shock that I found myself 
suddenly among fellow countrymen, and I lost no time in intro- 
ducing myself, in case they thought I was a German or Fascist 
agent. 

The escapers welcomed me, bombarded me with questions 
about the progress of the war, and then turned their interest to 
the young guides, who were apparently well known to them. 
The boys were among the helpful Italians who had been keep- 
ing them supplied with food since they made for the hills. 

All the escapers came from the same prison camp, P.G.54, and 
had been out with farm-working-parties when Mussolini's Govern- 
ment fell. Their Italian guards deserted on the spot, and 
the prisoners, not unnaturally, did not bother to report back to 
camp. The fact that their food supplies were coming from the 
Italian families for whom they had worked had double signifi- 
cance : it meant that the men had made a good impression on the 
ordinary Italians, and that the Italians, in turn, were prepared 
to help against the Germans, even if it entailed considerable risk. 

That all the cave-dwellers wanted to rejoin their own forces 
at the earliest possible moment was evident, but their plan seemed 
to be to remain in the foothills, waiting for the expected Allied 
advance. While I sympathized with this, I had secret doubts, for 
most of the men were clad only in ragged shirts and trousers, 
hardly suitable for lying around in caves as winter approached. 

I realized, without much enthusiasm, that I should have to do 
something about it, for I was the first officer they had seen since 
their escape, and by any rule of military conduct I had to con- 
sider myself in command. I could not think about my own escape 
without doing something for them first. That, too, seemed to be 
the view taken by the men, who kept demanding, "How do we 
get back to the lines ?" 

The only truthful answer would have been that I had not the 
foggiest idea, but I replied, "I shall go back and see what can be 



26 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

organized. Meanwhile stay where you are. Keep out of sight 
during the day, and don't under any circumstances go down to 
people's houses. I'll be back to-morrow." 

I stumbled back down the hillside to a cheerful chorus of 
British "Good nights," which was music after an age of un- 
comprehended Italian, but, much as I had enjoyed talking again 
in the only language which I understood, I had never felt more 
alone than at this moment. I had never looked forward to my 
own proposed journey south, but at least it was cnly my own skin 
I was risking. To bungle the escape of a dozen others was much 
more serious, for they had more to lose : prison-camp conditions 
were frequently much worse for other ranks than for officers. All 
my problems seemed to have been multiplied twelve-fold, and 
there was no one to whom I could turn for help. 

Back in the peace of the straw stack, I pondered on grouping, 
timing, route, and rendezvous plans for a trek south. The last 
news I had of the war was that Naples, a mere 120 miles away, 
had fallen to the Allies, and I presumed that the advance was still 
sweeping up the long leg of Italy at good speed. The fact was 
that the advance had ground to a bloody standstill against stub- 
born resistance. The Germans held a line pivoted on the fortress- 
monastery of Monte Cassino, and at that moment were strengthen- 
ing that line with an almost ceaseless southward flow of men and 
arms. These conditions, had I known them, would have made any 
proposal to link up with our own forces out of the question. 

When I went back into the hills next night, to check up on the 
escapers* food supplies, I was disconcerted to find that overnight 
the force had doubled in size and by the next night it had 
doubled again. The original dozen were by no means the only 
prisoners to take advantage of the desertion of the Italian guards; 
escapers from a wide area were now gradually working their way 
to the relative security of the foothill caves, and, as there was no 
officer among them, I found myself in command of some fifty 
British soldiers, 1 20 miles behind enemy lines. 

The straw stack which had been my home was now more like 
an operational headquarters, for, while keeping in constant touch 
with the men in the hills, I had decided that it was much better 
to remain in a position where I could maintain direct contact with 
the Italians. My hosts were feeding me with regularity if with 
monotony for pasta is not only an acquired taste, but one that 



CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 27 

quickly palls on the English palate and I had made myself 
comfortable by carving a small square 'room' out of the centre of 
the stack, with a narrow entrance which could be easily concealed 
in emergency. One way and another, it was a pretty satisfactory 
billet, and there was no good reason for leaving it. 

It was, however, plain that the general situation was getting 
out of hand. Filtering a dozen men through a battlefield had 
looked difficult, but getting fifty men back to our lines was almost 
impossible. Yet, each day brought greater urgency to the problem 
of what to do with them, for the amount of food finding its way 
up to the hills, even at this most ample period on the farms, was 
not sufficient for so large a number. There was a growing need 
for medical supplies, and for additional clothing as winter, often 
surprisingly severe in the Apennines, crept closer. Already there 
was a distinct chill in the evenings. 

All that was needed, as in most of life's little emergencies, was 
money but where could a prisoner-of-war on the run lay his 
hands on large sums of money by honest means? One day, think- 
ing over the problem, my eyes fell upon the dome of St Peter's, 
dazzling and tantalizing in the distance. Suddenly there came a 
shadowy recollection of having been told long ago that one of 
the oddities of the war was that in the middle of enemy Italy 
there were still some official British Government representatives, 
virtually prisoners in the unique neutral Vatican City. The 
original British Embassy had been outside the walls of the 6 city 
within a city,' but when Italy entered the war on Germany's side 
it had been closed, dust-sheeted, and put under the protection of 
the neutral Swiss, while a skeleton staff of British diplomats had 
moved into the Vatican itself, knowing that they would never 
emerge again until the war was won. 

The more I thought about this, the more convinced I became 
that these were the people to ask for funds. Arranging for an 
appeal to reach them did not seem to be a formidable problem, 
the obvious person to take a message being a priest. And in Italy, 
even in a rural area, a priest is not difficult to find. 

By the language of sign and gesture, my hosts agreed to bring 
the village priest to see me, and he arrived the same evening. He 
was a genial, alert little man, in a shabby black cassock and hat. 
He had a calm, placid gaze, and exuded an atmosphere of homely 
piety which invited implicit trust, and I sensed that if he did not 



28 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

like my request he would reject it frankly but say no more about 
it to anyone. 

"Father," I asked, "is it possible for you to get a message into 
the Vatican?" 

He understood English, and seemed neither surprised nor per- 
turbed. "Si," he nodded. "It is possible. For whom is the mes- 
sage?" 

"Anybody English in the Vatican," I replied. His eyebrows 
raised a little, but he nodded again, so I handed him the brief note 
which I had already written. It was addressed "To whom it may 
concern," signed "S. I. Deny, major," and, with what might have 
seemed crass disregard for security, said simply that a group of 
escaped Allied prisoners beyond Salonc were in urgent need of 
financial assistance and clothing. 

The priest took his farewell, and disappeared into the darkness. 
During the next couple of days my faith wavered, and I would 
not have been surprised to see a posse of German soldiers, but 
as I knew I was remote from the main body of fellow-escapers, 
there was no reason why my recapture should also result in theirs. 

In fact, my fears were unjustified, for on the third day the 
village priest returned and, with a benevolent smile, handed me a 
package. It contained 3000 lire in Italian notes. I was astonished, 
delighted, and probably effusive in thanking the little priest, but 
he waved aside all my protestations of gratitude, and said simply, 
"Please to write an acknowledgment for my superior, to say I 
have given you the denaro" 

I felt that I had already committed more than enough to paper, 
but could hardly refuse the priest's request so I decided that I 
might as well ask for some more money at the same time. Three 
thousand lire represented something under ten pounds, although 
it could buy goods worth twice as much if wisely spent in the 
country areas. It was a welcome surprise, but it would not go far 
in the provisioning of fifty men. 

"Grazie," said the priest, as I handed him a scribbled note 
which was a compound of receipt, expression of thanks, and beg- 
ging-letter. "I will take it to the Vatican myself." 

I returned to the men in the foothills, and arranged with the 
N.C.O.'s the distribution and expenditure of some of the money, 
instructing them to give small sums to the farm families who had 
been feeding them, and to ask their Italian contacts to purchase 



CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 29 

second-hand clothing to meet urgent needs. I reckoned that with the 
low cost of food in the country area, there was money enough to 
ensure that none of the hospitable farm families would be heavily 
out of pocket for what they had done, and after the success of 
this first experiment I hoped that the financial position of our 
little organization would be sufficiently healthy to prevent any 
hardship in the near future. 

Just four days after his previous visit the village priest returned 
to my hide-out, and handed me another 4000 lire. 

"Grazie, grazie," I said delightedly. "Would you like another 
receipt for your superior ?" 

"No," replied the priest, looking me straight in the eye. 'This 
time he would like you to go to Rome yourself." 

"What?" I exclaimed. 

"My superior wishes to see you personally. You will, per favore, 
go to Rome?" 

"If it is possible, yes. May I ask who is your superior?" But 
the priest replied evasively, and instead told me that he would 
help me to get to the Vatican. 

In fact, the prospect did not dismay me as much as it would 
have done a week or two earlier. When I first took up residence 
in the straw stack the thought of finding my way, alone and 
friendless, into the capital city, would have been formidable, but 
since then I had learned a good deal about the Italian rural scene. 
The peasants working smallholdings in the plain below the Apen- 
nines regularly travelled to Rome by pony cart, to sell their vege- 
tables and fruit at the inflated prices obtainable in the city 
markets. Nevertheless, the idea of going voluntarily into Rome 
was on a par with clambering back on to the prison-train, and 
but for maintaining the supply of money which had now begun 
to flow towards the foothills fifty, I would have shied away from 
the suggestion. However, there was litde choice in the matter, and 
I was grateful for the priest's offer of assistance. 

He wasted no time in arranging for a smallholder named Pietro 
Fabri, who drove his pony cart into Rome two or three times 
every week, to pick me up early one November morning. Well 
on the chilly side of dawn we jogged off to Rome, and all I knew 
was that I was to be guided by my companion to a rendezvous 
that had been arranged. If anything went wrong I should be in 
a perilous position, alone in the middle of an alien city, with no 



3O THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

idea of where I was supposed to be going, and unable to ask the 
way even if I had known. 

Pietro Fabri, who was accompanied by one of his host of bare- 
footed daughters, was a gay, bucolic son of the soil. On the long 
journey down secondary roads he burst into song occasionally, 
swore frequently at the plodding pony, and chattered a good deal, 
apparently unperturbed by my failure to understand a word, and 
quite satisfied if I grinned at him, and nodded once in a while. 
I cannot think that he made a habit of smuggling people past the 
road-blocks into Rome, yet he was clearly less concerned than 
I was, and seemed happy to have me sitting beside him and his 
daughter, in front of a mountain of cabbages and in full view of 
any early risers who happened to be about. 

Fascinated, I sat and watched the domes of Rome, dominated 
always by the white giant of St Peter's, creeping closer in the 
thin light of dawn. But before we reached the outskirts of the city 
Pietro motioned to me to take cover, as one of the check-points 
established by the Germans and their Fascist collaborators on all 
roads leading into Rome lay just around the next corner. 

I wriggled downward through a sea of cabbages, felt Pietro 
and his daughter adjust the pile above me, and heard his whis- 
pered, "Silenzio, signore." Unable to see anything, and almost 
suffocated by the pungent smell, I felt completely cut off from the 
world, but as the rickety wobbling of the cart ceased, I knew that 
we had reached the road-block. I could hear the murmur of 
Pietro's voice and others, disconcertingly close to my ears, through 
the deafening creaking of the cabbage-leaves every time I 
breathed. I was nearly choking, but dared not breathe deeply 
for fear of causing a telltale rise and fall in the pile of cabbages, 
and could not pant because of the noise it would make. Every 
second I expected to feel the sharp prod of an inquisitive bayonet. 

It was an enormous relief when at last I felt the wheels begin 
to turn again, with no bayonet thrusts, and no rummaging among 
the load Pietro, apparently, was well known to all the guards. 
But I was still suffering from claustrophobia, had no idea how 
long I was to subsist beneath the cabbages, and prayed that it 
would not be too long. The cart rumbled on for an age before a 
whispered "Venga, venga" (Come, come) enabled me to emerge 
from my sweaty green confinement and take a grateful gulp of 
Roman air. 



CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 3! 

"Buon giorno, signore!" grinned Pietro, as I sat again upon 
the cabbages, which for so long had sat on me. 

"And a very good morning to you," I replied in English, scrap- 
ing an affectionate caterpillar from my hair. 

I was rather surprised, though well pleased, that Pietro should 
have called me from hiding before we reached whatever was to 
be our destination, for I could see that we were still on the out- 
skirts of the city. I did not know then that Rome, for its popula- 
tion, is a compact city. Bounded for centuries by its long, strong 
walls, it does not straggle out into hideous suburbs in aU direc- 
tions, as do so many of the capitals of the world. I was glad to be 
sitting out in the open again, for I did not feel that the need to 
avoid attracting attention justified a prolonged incarceration 
among the cabbages, and in my present shabby condition I was 
unlikely to draw a second glance so long as I remained with 
Pietro and the cart. 

Moreover, I wanted to see as much of Rome as I could, for I 
presumed that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime visit, and the 
great white dome of St Peter's now generally hidden behind the 
near buildings, and at close quarters not white at all, but a gentle, 
mellow grey had been beckoning me and tantalizing me for 
weeks. As it happened, the Rome through which Pietro drove me 
was much like any other Italian town, with narrow pavements set 
immediately against long, flat, pastel-coloured fagades studded 
with shuttered windows; only a fleeting glimpse of a towering 
gate, and part of the great stone wall of the ancient city, served as 
a reminder that this was the birthplace of much of what is called 
civilization. 

Pietro Fabri halted his pony cart in a side street used as an open- 
air market by peasants from the surrounding country, clambered 
down from his perch, and, leaving his daughter to look after the 
pony, bade me follow him. Feeling like a lone English tourist, and 
trying not to look like one, I walked beside him through two or 
three small streets just beginning to wake up to face a new day. 
Passing workmen bade each other good morning, shaking hands 
vigorously, as though they had not met for years, although the 
chances were that they had caroused together in some caf only 
the previous evening. I had not walked in the streets of any town 
or city for more than a year and a quarter, and everything seemed 
unreal. 



32 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

"A destra," said Retro suddenly, turning to the right. "Venga 
con me." He clumped through the open doors of a tall, drab 
building, led me across a deserted tiled hall, and up a stone stair- 
way flanked by an iron balustrade. On the first floor he stopped 
at an apartment door, and rang the bell. The door swung open 
to reveal a small, greasy man of early middle age, wearing the 
long black cassock of a priest, who smiled toothily, stood back 
to allow us to enter, and closed the door behind us. We were in 
the hall of a small flat, and Pietro and the stranger were already 
engaged in rapid conversation. They obviously knew each other 
well, but Pietro did not treat the other man with the reverence 
usually accorded by Italians to priests, and although the man in 
the cassock kept his face turned towards Pietro, his eyes were on 
me. I found him difficult to assess, for there was something about 
him that I did not quite like; he seemed altogether too smooth, 
and completely devoid of the simple piety that shone like a beacon 
from the village priest who had sent me. 

Pietro indicated that the man's name was Pasqualino Perfetti, 
but the latter seemed to know mine already. The rather vague 
introduction complete, Pietro, with a cheery "A presto," departed, 
leaving me without any idea of when or where I was to see him 
again. 

Perfetti took me by the arm into a room where I was con- 
fronted by a heavier-built man of about the same age, but wear- 
ing a conventional civilian suit. Spreading an oily palm towards 
him, Perfetti announced, "Aldo Zambardi." 

"Buon giorno, capitano," said Zambardi, gripping my hand 
and peering up at me, and then in good English, "I have been 
sent here to meet you. Did the money from the Vatican arrive 
all right?" 

I nodded, thinking that perhaps I had come all this way, at the 
parish priest's request, simply to report in person the safe arrival 
of the 4000 lire. Nevertheless, it was difficult to believe that either 
of the two rather shifty-looking men with me now were the honest 
little priest's anonymous 'superior. 5 I was just beginning to feel 
a sense of anticlimax when, after a pause, Zambardi said some- 
thing that startled me. "Now we have to go to the Vatican," he 
announced, in matter-of-fact tones. "It is a long way, but we 
shall take a tram." 

I probably stared at him, and then looked down at my tattered 



CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 33 

shirt, the worn battlcdress trousers, dyed a streaky blue with 
ordinary ink, and the desert boots, which had been cut down into 
rough shoes. 

Zambardi took my meaning, and, taking off his own overcoat, 
handed it over, and spoke quickly to the man in the cassock, who 
rummaged around to produce a pair of flannel trousers and a 
cloth cap. 

I changed then and there, and the result was rather bizarre. 
The trousers flapped above my ankles, the coat did not reach 
my knees, and the little cap sat quaintly on top of my head. How- 
ever, the two Italians seemed satisfied with the transformation, 
so there was no reason why I should complain, and I set off with 
Zambardi down the street, knowing that at least I looked nothing 
whatever like an English officer. 

Before we left Zambardi warned me that I was not to talk to 
him or show any sign of recognition once we got outside, and that 
on the tram I should pretend to doze in order to avoid being 
drawn into conversation with other passengers. The two-coach 
tram was pretty full, but Zambardi, pushing as heartily as all the 
other intending passengers, elbowed me aboard, bought a couple 
of tickets, shoved me forcibly into a seat, sat down heavily beside 
me before anyone else could cut in, and stared studiously into 
space. 

The other passengers included some in German or Fascist uni- 
forms and jackboots, so I tried to make myself small, and in no 
time let my head sag in a simulated doze, as advised. 

There was a droll humour in the situation : I had first seen 
Rome from the top of a straw stack, I had entered it covered with 
cabbages, and now, dressed like a music-hall comedian, I was 
getting my first glimpse of its eternal glories from a crowded tram 
through half-closed eyes. After the drabness of the desert, the 
confinement of the prison camp, and the isolation of the straw 
stack, nothing would have been more satisfying than to stare 
around at the wonderfully preserved symbols of an empire of 
two thousand years ago. But every time I raised an eyelid I was 
brought sharply back to the present, for the pavements were 
speckled with the forbidding field-grey of German uniforms. 
Rome was completely dominated by the Germans, who had 
marched in and taken over the city, lock, stock, and barrel, after 
the fall of Mussolini's dictatorship. 



34 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

The tram was brought to a stop a dozen times, and every time 
I feared it was a security check. Quite apart from my lack of 
Italian, I had no documents of any sort, so the chances of emerg- 
ing from even the most cursory check were nil. No wonder Zam- 
bari insisted that we should pretend to be unacquainted. Eventu- 
ally, as the brakes scraped on again, I felt a sharp nudge in the 
side, and, looking up, saw that my companion was already half- 
way down the car. I rose hurriedly, and followed, jumping from 
the tram just before it started away again. 

Now, for the first time, I could see something of Rome. We had 
stopped beside the Ponte Vittoria Emanuele, possibly the most 
spectacular of Rome's seventeen bridges across the Tiber, with its 
three great arches, and eight triumphal pillars reaching up from 
the balustrades. On the far bank, just to the right of where we 
were walking across the bridge, was the round grey Castel Sant' 
Angelo, built by Hadrian as a mausoleum, but for fifteen centuries 
the fortress of Rome, and ahead of us, its noble f agaric still partly 
obscured by the buildings of the Via della Conciliazione, was the 
greatest church in Christendom. Spellbound, I crossed the 
northern embankment roadway behind the trotting Zambardi, 
and turned into Via della Conciliazione, once a solid block of 
shops and caf& with a narrow street on either side, but long since 
swept clear by Mussolini, to form a tremendous diverging avenue 
leading straight from the Tiber to St Peter's. It was a breathtaking 
sight. It is common knowledge that everything about St Peter's 
is on the vast scale, but until that moment, when the war seemed 
far away, I had never realized the colossal majesty of this church, 
which took the whole of the sixteenth and three-quarters of the 
seventeenth century to build. 

As we reached the wide entrance to the enormous circular St 
Peter's Square, my eyes travelled down 400 feet from the top of 
the dome and I came back to earth in another sense with a 
shock. Apart from priests and nuns, the great piazza was full 
of German soldiers, several armed and on some sort of sentry 
duty. Between me and the great gates of the Vatican, on either 
side of the cathedral f agade, there was a hornets' nest. 

I continued to follow the silent Zambardi, keeping my gaze 
firmly at ground level, careful to avoid catching the eye of the 
German soldiers who passed too close for my liking. Ahead of 
us, almost in the shadow of the noble colonnade that curved right 



CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 35 

round both sides of the piazza, I could see a very tall, lone figure, 
wearing a long black robe of a priest. He was standing with his 
hands folded in front of him, and his head slightly bowed, as 
though in prayer, yet I had the feeling that he was watching our 
approach. 

Zambardi went straight towards the tall priest, who flashed 
a quick glance at me, and turned on his heel. In that momentary 
glance I caught an impression of piercing blue eyes behind simple 
steel spectacles, and of a strong, humorous mouth. And, as he 
turned abruptly away, I heard him speak in a delightful lilting 
brogue, but in unmistakable English. "Follow me a short dis- 
tance behind," was all he said. 

It was all so rapid that Zambardi and I had barely slowed 
our stride; we kept on walking as though we had no connexion 
with the tall cleric, who now strode before us. I followed obedi- 
ently, but noticed with a twinge of alarm that we turned, not to- 
wards the great gates of the Vatican, but through the colonnade 
itself, and walked away from the piazza and into a narrow side 
street. 

After covering a couple of hundred yards, the priest turned 
into a wide arched entrance, which appeared to be some sort of 
porter's lodge. From the shadow of the archway we passed into 
the intimate sunlight of a small, secluded square, flanked by 
solemn stone buildings, and crossed to a massive doorway on the 
far side. 

As we passed through the portico I glanced casually upward 
at the inscription over the door, and as I read it I felt myself go 
cold. I knew little enough Italian, but there was no mistaking the 
meaning of that inscription : Collegia Teutonicum the German 
College. 



3 



Two Tall Monsignors 



THE last thing I could have foreseen, when setting off from the 
straw stack in the morning, was that I should walk voluntarily into 
some sort of German establishment. But there was little I could do 
except follow the tall priest dumbly, with a mixture of resignation 
and curiosity gaining the upper hand over fear and suspicion. 

The priest led the way into a small, sparsely-furnished ground- 
floor office, next to a porter's room, and, after a quick grin at 
me, he opened a lengthy exchange of Italian with Zambardi. 

"Now, me boy," he said, turning to me at last, "we'll go up 
to my room but we're leaving Aldo now, so you had better give 
him his coat back." 

I did so, and thanked Zambardi warmly, though with the sus- 
picion that I was thanking him for leading me into a trap. Then, 
still bewildered, I accompanied the priest up two steep flights of 
stairs, along a dim corridor, and into a small study, one end of 
which was concealed completely behind two long curtains. The 
rest of the room contained a wash-basin, a desk, with a couple 
of well-filled golf-bags propped casually behind it, a radio-set in 
one corner, a sofa, and a couple of easy chairs. There appeared 
to be nobody else in it. 

"Now you'll be all right you can talk here," said the priest, 
and promptly plied me with some biscuits, which I accepted 
gratefully, but which made talking difficult, rather to my relief 
because I wanted him to make the opening gambit. 

"I got your receipt for the money," he said, as I munched. 
"Did you get the second lot all right? But, of course, you must 
have done, or you wouldn't be here." 

"So it was you who sent it, Father ?" I asked. 

He nodded, and asked me about the men I had left in the 
hills. I answered fairly cagily at first, but my host made up for 
my reticence by his own frank willingness to talk and within 
minutes any illusion that most of the escaped Britons in Italy 
were in my care was shattered. 

"There are a good many groups like yours around here," he 



TWO TALL MONSIONORS 37 

said. "Hundreds and hundreds of prisoners simply walked out 
when the Italian guards deserted, and now they are in hiding all 
over the countryside, most in pretty bad need of more food and 
clothing. As a matter of fact, we even have some chaps here in 
Rome itself." 

I wanted to know what he meant by "we," and a dozen ques- 
tions occurred to me, but, sensing my thoughts, he said, "It is a 
long story, and you will pick it all up soon enough. Meanwhile 
how about a nice warm bath ?" 

As I had not so much as seen a bath since on leave in Cairo, 
nearly a year and a half previously, I accepted with relish. My 
host, who had observed our similarity in size and build, rum- 
maged around, produced a handful of his own clothing, and 
escorted me to a bathroom a short distance down the deserted 
corridor. "Take your time, me boy," he said, as he closed the 
door. "Come back to my room when you're ready and don't 
get lost on the way." 

In a glow of heavenly cleanliness, dressed in the priest's under- 
clothes and smoking-jacket, Perfetti's trousers and my own shirt, 
I listened cautiously at the door before I ventured into the cor- 
ridor again, but everything was wrapped in a calm ecclesiastical 
silence. I made my way along the corridor, and knocked softly 
at the priest's door. There was no reply. I knocked again, a little 
more loudly, and then, fearful of attracting unwelcome attention, 
tried the handle gently. The door opened smoothly, and I slipped 
inside. There seemed to be nothing to do except wait and see, but 
still half fearful that I had been led into a Nazi trap, I took a 
peep to see what lay behind the curtains at the end of the room. 
There was nothing but a simple narrow bed. Keeping well back 
in the room, I tried to see what lay outside; the view from the 
single large window behind the desk was almost filled with the 
vast bulk of St Peter's, but to the left, extending from the college 
in which I was either guest or prisoner, was a series of elegant 
stone buildings, squares and gardens, enclosing and disappearing 
behind the great sacristry, which projected from the southern wall 
of the cathedral. All these were part of the Vatican, and linked 
with the building in which I stood, yet it was puzzling that I had 
entered here from an ordinary street in German-occupied Rome, 
without challenge from either military sentries or Vatican guards. 
It did not add up. 



38 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

I was still pondering when the sound of a hand on the latch 
caused me to swing round sharply to face the door. It opened 
softly, but not secretively, to reveal a stocky, dark-haired man of 
early middle age, wearing a neat black coat and pin-striped 
trousers, and carrying a small black-leather brief-case under one 
arm. 

"Major Deny, I believe?" he said, with a charming smile, and 
offered his hand. He was completely English in appearance, and 
his accent carried a trace of the Londoner, 

"Yes," I replied doubtfully, taking his hand. "And you?" 
He grinned, and instead of answering, he opened his brief- 
case to produce a large packet of cigarettes and a welcome 
bottle. 

"We've been expecting you," he said. "I thought you would 
be glad of these to celebrate your safe arrival." 

I tried to express my gratitude, and decided I should have to 
accept, for the time being, the situation in which everybody knew 
me and I knew nobody. He asked a good many questions about 
myself and the party in the hills, and I answered with some re- 
serve, uncertain how this obvious Englishman could fit into the 
picture. Most of my own questions, however innocuously worded, 
were adroitly side-stepped, and I was no nearer an explanation of 
my surroundings when the door opened again, and the tall priest 
strode in. 

"Oh, good John's here!" he exclaimed, and, turning to me, 
he beamed. "This is John May. He is the man who will look 
after you, and tell you everything." For a few minutes the three 
of us spoke together, but only in the most general terms about 
the war. Then the priest asked to be excused, and, as suddenly 
as he reappeared, strode out through the door again. I looked 
blankly at the man named John May, and asked, "Does this go 
on all the time?" 

"Pretty nearly," he laughed. "He's an official of the Holy 
Office, and he has a little office downstairs, where people are in 
and out to see him all the time. Never seems to rest but I expect 
you'll get used to that, eventually. A wonderful character, the 
monsignor." 

"The what?" 

"Our Irish friend the Right Reverend Monsignor Hugh 
O'Flaherty." 



TWO TALL MONSIGNORS 39 

"Oh, dear," I said. "That sounds damned important and 
I Ve been calling him 'Father' all this time." 

"Never mind," said John May. "The monsignor would be the 
last person in the world to worry about that. But you're quite 
right he is an important chap, and you really ought to call him 
'monsignor.' He's been at the Vatican since 1922, and seems 
to know everybody in Rome. Everybody knows Monsignor 
OTlaherty and, what's more important, they all adore him." 

I was beginning to understand why. And since my companion 
seemed more prepared to accept me, and not parry questions, I 
wondered if he knew what sort of British organization remained 
in existence behind the walls of the Vatican. 

Nodding towards the window, I asked if there was still a British 
Ambassador in there. 

"Not quite," said John May. "We no longer have an Am- 
bassador in Rome, but there is a British Minister to the Holy See, 
with a small legation inside the city walls which reminds me, I 
must get back to my duties. As a matter of fact, I am the Minister's 
butler." 

With that he was gone, and all I now knew was that I was 
the guest of an Irish monsignor and an English butler in a Ger- 
man college. 

The fact that the name over the portico was no mere archaic 
title was brought home to me when the monsignor returned with 
an invitation to join him at his desk for lunch. The meal was 
brought in and served by two nuns, who were obviously German, 
and spoke in the language that I associated with jack-booted 
guards. However, they were very subdued in the presence of the 
monsignor, speaking only when spoken to, and the barley soup 
and spaghetti they served, though plain and simple, was the best 
I had eaten for many months. The monsignor watched my enjoy- 
ment of the meal with sympathy and delight, and it was only with 
difficulty that I was able to persuade him to eat his own meal in- 
stead of giving it to me. After the nuns had left I asked point- 
blank, "Monsignor, are we in the Vatican ?" 

The monsignor leaned back in his chair, and emitted a great, 
rich laugh. "Has that been bothering you?" he chuckled. "I 
suppose the only accurate answer is 'yes and no. 9 This college, 
like a good many other places, is extra-territorial property : it be- 
longs to the Holy See, and forms no part of the Italian State, but 



4O THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

it is outside the Vatican City, and, as you know, it leads out on to 
the streets of Rome. The military authorities have left us alone so 
far, though I wouldn't put it past them to raid us one day. You 
are pretty safe here, but not as secure, of course, as a few of your 
friends who got into the Vatican City itself early on they are in- 
terned for the duration. The Vatican is a neutral State, you know." 

"But this place it's German, isn't it ?" 

"Yes, so it is," he grinned. "Almost everybody in it is Ger- 
man, but don't let that worry you, me boy this is not part of 
the Wehrmacht. All the same, I don't think we should advertise 
too extensively that you are an English officer." 

Before I had time to find out more he excused himself, and 
dashed off again to his office, but, in view of his last remark, I 
was startled on his return, half an hour later, by his next words. 
"Blon, I thought you would like to meet this British major." 

Disconcerted and slightly embarrassed, I found myself looking 
into the dark eyes of a staggeringly attractive brunette about nine- 
teen years old. "Miss Blon Kiernan Major Deny," the mon- 
signor beamed. "I thought it would be nice if you two met." 

The girl greeted me charmingly in English, and although I 
was quickly becoming accustomed to the unexpected visitors to 
this remarkable room, I was still surprised enough to ask, "How 
do you happen to be here ?" 

"Coming from you, that's rich," she laughed. "Don't you know 
there's a war on? As a matter of fact, I'm neutral my father is 
the Irish Ambassador." 

Blon Kiernan and the monsignor chatted about mutual 
acquaintances, and it was clear that the monsignor was a frequent 
visitor to the Irish Embassy. They both tried, graciously and 
charmingly, to keep me abreast of the conversation, but I was 
content to sit and listen, uncomprehendingly; I could not re- 
member when I had last heard casual English small talk, and had 
the feeling that I had drifted right out of the war into the gay, 
peaceful, social life of some never-never land. 

When the dark Irish girl went out of the room, and, so I pre- 
sumed, out of my life, the monsignor went with her, and I sat 
alone again, thinking it would be rather fun to have a sweep- 
stake on who would come through the door next. It turned out 
to be John May, which was not particularly surprising, but what 
he said took me off balance. 



TWO TALL MONSIONORS 41 

"I have had a talk with the Minister about you," he said 
chattily, "and he would like you and the monsignor to join him 
for dinner at the Legation to-night." 

Fortunately, Monsignor O'Flaherty reappeared through the 
door, and, learning of the Minister's invitation, at once accepted. 
He and John May sorted out the timing and other details before 
turning any attention to what I considered the principal problem 
namely, getting me into the Vatican. 

"It is easy enough to get into the Vatican without being cap- 
tured by the Germans," confided the monsignor, "but the diffi- 
culty is we want to get you out again. If you are caught by the 
Vatican Guards or gendarmes you will either be interned for the 
duration or immediately expelled into the arms of the Germans." 

"You know," said John May, looking from one to the other 
thoughtfully, "it is surprising how alike you two are in size and 
shape." 

The monsignor's face wreathed into a cherubic smile, and, 
with a hand on John May's shoulder, he bade him farewell with 
the words, "We'll be there." 

Early that evening two figures, each topping six feet, stood 
and surveyed each other across the little room. "Not at all bad, 
me boy," said the monsignor approvingly. "You look more like 
a monsignor than I do." 

He had changed into the dress worn by monsignors only on 
formed social occasions: low-crowned black hat, long black 
cloak, with scarlet buttons all the way down the front, a vivid 
scarlet sash and silver-buckled black shoes. As he inspected me, 
he might almost have been looking into a full-length mirror, for 
I was dressed identically, the monsignor having produced a 
duplicate of every garment. 

"Now, leave everything to me," he said. "Walk beside me, 
but don't speak or look about you at all. Walk slowly, keep your 
head bowed, and mumble constantly in prayer. If you don't know 
any prayers keep your lips moving anyway." 

Together we walked slowly down the stairs, out into the court- 
yard, through the archway, and along the street towards the 
colonnade, where we turned left towards the great church. Al- 
though I was obediently keeping my head down and my eyes 
low, I was acutely aware of the majesty of the great columns, 
each ten feet across, soaring more than sixty feet up to a vaulted 



42 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

roof, and set so far apart that a couple of coaches could have 
driven abreast down any of the curving avenues. I was also aware 
of the grey-uniformed German soldiers hovering about the vast 
square, and in my unfamiliar clothing I felt that all their eyes 
must have been upon me; to walk slowly, and apparently placidly, 
along the colonnade was a test of self-discipline. 

The colossal columns crawled past, and I sensed, rather than 
observed, the Swiss Guards, now no longer in their picturesque 
costumes of yellow slashed with blue and red, but in forbidding 
war-service uniforms. Quivering inside my cassock, I concen- 
trated on praying, and at that moment my prayers were fervent 
and sincere. 

As we passed through the gate the guards looked at us, but 
with no more than casual interest. No doubt monsignors lost in 
their devotions were a familiar sight to them, and in any case 
they probably recognized at once the long-familiar figure of my 
companion. 

The first hurdle was crossed, but I still kept my head well 
down as we crossed the square, where once part of Nero's circus 
had stood, and where the first Christian martyrs, including St 
Peter himself, had sacrificed their lives. We passed the lofty 
walls of the sacristry, visible from the monsignor's window, and 
reached the limit beyond which no ordinary pilgrim to Rome is 
ever allowed. 

As we approached the dangerous comer where the Vatican 
gendarmerie maintained their vigil night and day, I wondered 
how the audacious impersonation could possibly succeed. Luck 
was with us, however, for as we passed within a couple of feet 
or so, the formidable gendarmerie snapped to attention, and 
saluted. I pretended to be lost in my prayers, but I noticed that 
the real monsignor acknowledged the salute with a slight nod of 
the head. 

We walked slowly on through little squares and passages, and 
I realized that although we were still separated by the great 
edifice of the church from the main palace of the Vatican, this 
really was a city within a city; everywhere the yellow-and-white 
flag, with its insignia of tiara and crossed keys, reminded me that 
in the midst of war I was now on neutral soil. Silently we walked 
into an austere four-storey building, crossed the hall, and entered 
a small passenger-lift. Monsignor O'Flaherty pressed the button 



TWO TALL MONSIONORS 43 

for the topmost floor, and, as the lift started to climb, turned to 
me and smiled. 

"That wasn't so difficult, was it, me boy? 3 ' he asked. "This 
is the place we want. The Vatican still uses the ground floor for 
offices, but the refugee legations from Poland, France, and Eng- 
land have the rest of the building now." 

At the top we emerged into a small passage, and the mon- 
signor guided me to a door at the end. He pressed the bell, and 
the door was opened by an Italian footman, who bowed and 
admitted us into a lofty and immensely long corridor, along which 
I could see approaching the familiar figure of John May. Grin- 
ning at the sight of me, he ushered us into the first room on the 
right, which was comfortably furnished as a drawing-room, and 
pressed a White Lady cocktail into my hand before he went off 
to appraise the Minister of the arrival of his guests. The genuine 
monsignor refused a cocktail; he never drank, and, in fact, despite 
the tasteful smoking-jacket he had lent me, he never smoked 
either, although he was completely tolerant of the indulgence of 
others. 

The British Minister turned out to be so like my preconceived 
idea of the perfect English diplomat that the impression of 
theatrical unreality, which had pervaded all my experiences that 
day, was heightened. Sir Francis D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne, 
calm and quietly courteous, left me at once with the feeling that 
there was no crisis in the world which could shake, even momen- 
tarily, his unruffled poise, no series of calamities through which 
he could not walk steadily, smoothing chaos into orderliness. 
Seldom have I met any man in whom I had such immediate 
confidence. He welcomed us warmly, yet I found it impossible to 
behave with anything but strict formality. Apart from the re- 
straining influence of my clothing, I was almost overwhelmed by 
an atmosphere of old-world English courtliness and grace, which 
I had thought belonged only to the country-house parties of long 
ago. Sir D'Arcy was spry, trim, a young sixty, but he had spent 
years enough in the diplomatic service to develop an astonishing 
aptitude for creating around himself an aura of all that was most 
civilized in English life. I felt as though I had returned home after 
long travels, to find that royalty had come to dinner, and I had 
to be on my best behaviour. 

If a monarch had descended on the dinner party that night 



44 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

he would have found little to criticize. A large circular table, 
set with fine linen, gleaming silver, and glistening glass, seemed to 
my prison-camp jaded eyes a picture from a world of fantasy. 
A footman prepared the dishes at a sideboard, and John 
May served us with grapefruit, a tender steak, with mushrooms, 
grilled tomatoes, and more trimmings than I remembered existed, 
and a delicious, unidentifiable, creamy sweet, and cheese. The 
Minister and the monsignor spoke inconsequentially to each other, 
mainly about people known to them both, but, with immense 
tact, refrained from involving me in long discussions likely to dis- 
tract me from the full enjoyment of a meal which at any time 
I should have considered extremely good, and which at that par- 
ticular moment seemed like something out of the kitchens of 
Paradise. 

As we dawdled over the cheese the Minister asked me how the 
fall of Mussolini had been received by our men in the prison 
camps, and in turn told me how the Germans, with a couple of 
divisions, had managed to take over Rome, which the new Italian 
'republic* had claimed to be defending with very considerable 
forces. From Sir D'Arcy, I learned that Rome was now, to all 
intents and purposes, just another German-occupied capital, with 
the only difference that there was still a residual Italian Fascist 
element actively co-operating with the Military Government. 

Over the coffee and cigarettes in the drawing-room, many of 
the questions which had been buzzing around in my brain all 
day found their answers. As I had begun to suspect, there was 
already in existence the shadow of an underground organization 
working for the welfare of Allied escapers and evaders, and it 
was intended that I should be brought into it. Many of the de- 
tails I was not to learn until several weeks later, but as we talked 
late into the night I began to secure a grasp of the immensity and 
complexity of the problem. Most of the story of what had already 
been done was not revealed until after Monsignor O'Flaherty had 
left us, promising to return for me the next day, for it transpired 
that it was this remarkable cleric who had done the greater part 
of it. 

The monsignor, I gathered, first came into contact with Allied 
prisoners-of-war as early as 1941, when he was appointed secre- 
tary-interpreter to the Papal Nuncio, whom he accompanied on 
tours of camps all over northern Italy. The Papal Nuncio 



TWO TALL MONSIGNORS 45 

travelled in fairly leisurely fashion by car, visiting one camp a 
day, but Monsignor O'Flaherty soon found himself travelling by 
train between camp and Rome every night, because he quickly 
formed the view that one of the duties of the Church was to 
ensure that information should be sent to the next of kin of newly 
captured prisoners as soon as possible. His incessant train journeys 
enabled up-to-date lists of names to be broadcast promptly by 
Vatican Radio, and he also took upon himself the task of speed- 
ing up the delivery of Red Cross parcels to the prisoners, apart 
from personally collecting more than ten thousand books, which 
he distributed around the camps. 

His persistent championing of the cause of prisoners-of-war 
eventually proved irksome to the Italian Government, and around 
Christmas 1942 he was asked for his resignation, as the result of 
Fascist pressure. Back in Rome he became a sort of rallying- 
point for the underdog; Jews and anti-Fascists who were in danger 
turned to him for help, and he found places for them to hide, 
secreting one or two including a glamorous Italian princess 
in the German College itself. 

The Vatican City authorities, saddled for the duration with 
half a dozen Allied escaped prisoners-of-war, who had got past 
the guards, sensed the danger of becoming a Mecca for escapers, 
and gave orders that all would-be internees should be forcibly 
expelled at the gates. The first fourteen to suffer this fate all 
avoided recapture and had the good fortune to be put in touch 
with the monsignor. He arranged for them to be housed, under 
the care of a friendly carabiniere, actually in the Italian police 
barracks, but when the Germans marched into Rome on Sep- 
tember 14, 1943, the Italians fled, and all the escapers except one 
were recaptured. 

Meanwhile the desertion of the Italian guards at camps all 
around the city had enabled hundreds of prisoners to get away, 
and many were now beginning to arrive in Rome, mostly in the 
hope of getting into the neutral Vatican. Some had been directed 
by friendly priests to the monsignor's office, some turned up at 
the neutral Swiss Legation, and some contacted Secundo Con- 
stantini, the Swiss caretaker at the dust-sheeted British Embassy. 
The monsignor, bombarded from all sides by calls for assistance, 
mobilized the help of many Vatican priests, including Irishmen, 
New Zealanders, and Maltese, in organizing lodgings for the 



46 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

escapers, but his financial difficulties would have been consider- 
able except for an unexpected gift of money from an anti-Fascist 
nobleman, Prince Doria Pamphili. There were plenty of risks, 
and even picking up the money proved something of a problem, 
for the Prince's house was raided by the S.S. while the monsignor 
was there. He had to make his escape disguised as a coalman, 
his face blackened, and his clerical robes in a sack over his 
shoulder, but fortunately the Germans never thought to ask them- 
selves why a coalman should be carrying a full sack out of the 
palace. 

As the number of escapers seeking help steadily increased, 
Monsignor OTlaherty realized that some sort of organization had 
to be established, and thus it was that a Council of Three came 
into being. It consisted of the monsignor, with contacts through 
innumerable priests, who brought the escapers in, and found 
paces for them to stay; Count Sarsfield Salazar, who was with 
the Swiss Legation, and knew of approaches for help made to the 
Swiss or to Secundo Constantini at the closed British Embassy; 
and John May, who not only provided a direct link with the 
British Minister, but had contacts all over Rome, and always 
knew where the black-market supplies of food or clothing could 
be purchased. 

The Council of Three decided to find somewhere for the 
accommodation of escapers as soon as they arrived in Rome, for 
the men were usually conspicuous because of their tattered clothes, 
and were often in poor physical condition. One of the monsignor's 
priests found the answer to the immediate problem at 12 Via 
Impera, the home of a vivacious, motherly Maltese widow, Mrs 
Henrietta Chevalier. In her small flat she lived with her six 
daughters and one son, but she was delighted with the idea of 
looking after a few of c our boys 5 as well. With the best will in the 
world, however, she could not accommodate many, and, with 
the influx of escapers still expanding, Monsignor O'Flaherty de- 
cided that he would have to rent a flat of his own, where reason- 
ably large numbers could stay until permanent billets were found 
for them. It delighted his sense of humour when he found what 
he wanted in the Via Firenze, for it was in a block backing on the 
hotel used as the S.S. headquarters, and was consequently well 
within the S.S. curfew cordon; however, he realized that this 
might have a practical advantage, since the Germans, if they be- 



TWOTALLMONSlGNORS 47 

came suspicious that escaped prisoners were being hidden in 
Rome, would scarcely begin searching so close to their own 
premises. 

Still the demands on the resources of the Council of Three 
increased as more and more escapers found their way into the 
city, often guided by well-meaning priests. Unfortunately, many 
of these did not realize that it was now impossible for the men to 
give themselves up for internment at the Vatican, and that the 
Germans had imposed the death penalty for the harbouring of 
escapers and evaders a development of which the German-con- 
trolled Rome Radio was daily reminding the inhabitants of the 
city. 

Monsignor OTlaherty rented another flat, this time in the 
fashionable Via Chelini, about a mile away from Via Firenze, 
and obtained supplies of money from the British Minister in the 
Vatican. But it was clear that the organization was a snowball 
that threatened to engulf the monsignor. More and more escapers 
were pouring into Rome, Count Salazar's 'country branch' was 
developing with alarming speed, and new requests for help were 
being brought in daily by village priests, from groups scattered 
about the rural area. 

The monsignor kept in close touch with the British Minister, 
and both agreed that a complete underground military organiza- 
tion was required, but the difficulty was that among all the 
escapers with whom they were in contact there was no senior 
British officer who could take command, and the Minister himself, 
virtually a prisoner in his legation, and in any case in a delicate 
diplomatic situation, could give little direct help. 

"Your note signed 'S. I. Deny, major/ was the first contact 
we had made with a senior British officer," Sir D'Arcy told me. 
"When the monsignor saw that in one breath you had thanked 
him for the money and asked him for more he was highly amused, 
and decided on die spot that you were the man to take control 
of the organization. That is why we sent for you. 

"I must tell you that I consider the monsignor's efforts have 
been absolutely wonderful, but he feels, and I agree, that the time 
has come now when we must appoint somebody to co-ordinate all 
the work. It will not be easy, and I am afraid it is likely to get 
more difficult as time goes on. Now that you know what it is all 
about, are you prepared to take command ?" 



48 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

There was only one possible answer. In the ordinary way I 
might have been overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy for the 
task, but after the stagnation of prison-camp life the chance to 
do something active again was irresistible. 

"Of course, sir," I replied. "But you realize I don't speak any 
Italian ? Won't that complicate things a bit ?" 

"Very probably, major," said the Minister, "but I am sure you 
will find a way round that difficulty and if you don't the mon- 
signor will. You will need to lean on him rather heavily, I'm 
afraid, particularly in the early stages, but you have no doubt 
already come to the conclusion that he is a pretty remarkable 
man. I imagine you will not come across many problems that 
you and he together cannot solve." 

I was still not at all clear about exactly what I was supposed 
to do, but the Minister brushed aside questions of detail, and said 
that all specific plans could be worked out later. I asked him when 
he wanted me to start, and told him that I felt I ought to return 
first to my own group near Salone, so that they would not be left 
with the impression that I had simply gone away on my own, and 
let them down. 

"That is what I hoped you would do," said Sir D'Arcy. He 
told me he would arrange with the monsignor for me to be taken 
back for a day or two, during which time I was to place the most 
reliable N.C.O. in charge, and organize the distribution and ex- 
penditure of some money that he would give me. 

That night, in a proper bed for the first time in eighteen months, 
I should have gone to sleep as soon as my head touched the pillow, 
but for an hour or more I lay revelling in the unaccustomed com- 
fort, and musing on my good fortune. When I awoke next morn- 
ing I still felt as though I was in a dream, for there was a smiling 
John May beside the bed, with an appetizing breakfast on a tray. 
All this, I thought, and breakfast in bed too. I felt in the lap of 
luxury as I ate my boiled egg, toast, and marmalade, as I relaxed 
comfortably in another hot bath, and as I tried on some stylish 
clothes of the Minister's, which John May had laid out for me. 
The Minister was slightly shorter, and a good deal more slender 
in build, than I, but I found to my delight that I could wear the 
shirts, socks, pullover, smart blue suit, and shoes which he had 
provided, without discomfort or apparent absurdity; I also noticed 
with ironic amusement that the excellent shoes came from a shop 



TWO TALL MONSIGNORS 49 

in Unter den Linden, Berlin. I kept one pair of socks and one of 
the cream-coloured shirts with the outer clothing I had worn the 
day before, and John May said he would take the rest of my new 
wardrobe to the monsignor's room, where it would be available 
for me on my return from my trip to the country. 

Most of the rest of the day at the legation I spent catching up 
with the latest war news, and committing it to memory so that 
I could pass on as much up-to-date information as possible to the 
men in the foothills, but it was still only mid-afternoon when the 
monsignor arrived at the legation to take me back to the Collegio 
Teutonicum. 

I put on my clerical robes again, and descended with him into 
the sunlight, but, in spite of the success of our adventure the 
previous night, I found it unnerving to repeat the pose in broad 
daylight. There were many more people about, and it seemed 
to me, so far as I could see through my lowered eyes, that a higher 
proportion of them were gendarmes and guards; however, none 
of them gave us a second look, and it occurred to me afterwards 
that generally they were all more concerned with keeping people 
out of the Vatican than with keeping them in. The position in 
the great piazza, with Germans much in evidence, was rather 
different, but the monsignor walked slowly on through the mas- 
sive colonnade without apparent concern, and I walked with 
him, hoping for the best. At the entrance to the college I was 
startled to see a porter on duty, but he greeted the monsignor 
reverently, and paid no particular attention to me. 

Back in the security of Monsignor O'Flaherty's room, I took 
off my heavy black robes thankfully, and drew deeply on a 
cigarette. As I relaxed I allowed my gaze to wander idly over 
.he buildings that could be seen through the window, and sud- 
denly I realized there was something familiar about one of the 
closest of them. 

"Monsignor!" I exclaimed, pointing. "Surely that's the place 
we have just left?" 

"That's right, me boy," he said, joining me to look through 
the window. "That's the Ospizio di Santa Marta." 

"Then didn't we go rather a long way round?" I asked, won- 
dering if it had all been some sort of elaborate joke. 

"We did so," he agreed, "but the important thing is we got 
you there and we got you back. There is a much shorter way, 



5O THEROMEESCAPELINE 

but it means going through two or three gendarmerie posts, where 
they are used to seeing me alone, and would have been suspicious 
of you at once. So many people go in and out of the big gates 
that there is far less risk of being questioned. John May has his 
own ways through, of course, but he is well known to all the 
guards, and I think they are mostly beholden to him in a good 
many little ways." 

"You think of everything," I said admiringly. 

"Thinking of everything," he replied, "is going to be your job 
in future." 

I stayed the night in the monsignor's room, sleeping on the 
long sofa. He had arranged for me to return to the foothills next 
morning with Pietro Fabri, the smallholder who had brought me 
to Rome, and at dawn he wakened me, and introduced me to a 
smiling little priest, who was to be my guide. 

Through the routine of walking and tram-dozing, to which 
Zambardi had introduced me, I followed the priest back to the 
flat of Pasqualino Perfetti, whose greasy appearance depressed 
me less now that I knew he was associated with the British rather 
than the Gestapo. My guide departed, and after I had changed 
back into the old rags which I now considered my country suit, 
Perfetti led me to the street market, where Pietro Fabri and a 
daughter he had too many for me to be sure if it was the same 
one were just selling the last of their vegetables. 

I looked at the cart, now bare save for one or two empty let- 
tuce boxes, with sudden alarm. In changing into my ragged old 
clothes, principally because I did not want any of my new outfit 
to suffer through mingling with the cabbages while I hid at the 
road-block, I had completely overlooked the fact that on the 
return journey there would be no cabbages under which to hide, 
unless Pietro had experienced an unexpectedly disastrous mom- 
ing. But Perfetti had gone, and there was little hope of making 
Pietro understand my concern at the lack of cover. 

Sitting up, where he had indicated, beside him on the box, and 
in full view of everybody, I felt sure the end had come when I 
saw one of the guards at the road-block ahead waving us to a halt. 
I sat petrified as the guard approached, but so far from demand- 
ing to see all our identity documents, he glanced into the back of 
the cart with sour disinterest, stepped back, and waved us on. 

Pietro had not seemed concerned at being stopped, and did 



TWO TALL MONSIONORS 51 

not now appear to be surprised at being allowed to continue on 
his way instead of being carted off to be shot for helping escaped 
prisoners; but what I could not know was that Pietro, for all his 
happy illiteracy, had a much sounder knowledge of the Roman 
law than I. There were obscure regulations about what sort of 
wares could be taken into, and out of, Rome, but the only rules 
affecting people were designed to prevent Italian provincials 
from moving in, and taking up residence in a city, when there 
was a general food shortage; thus the road-blocks at every access 
tended, like the Vatican guard, to be a one-way business, con- 
cerned more with what went into the city than with what came 
out of it. 

Half-way home we wobbled to a halt again, but this time it 
was Pietro's own idea. We stopped outside a little wine-parlour, 
and I gathered it was his custom to pull up there every time he 
returned from Rome, the length of his stay being dictated chiefly 
by the degree of success of his operations on the street market. 
Although after my early start I welcomed the idea of a glass of 
red wine, I was somewhat embarrassed not because I could not 
pay for my share, but for precisely the opposite reason. 

I was carrying in my trousers pocket no less than fifty thousand 
lire, given to me by the Minister to help my group of escapers, 
but the notes were all rolled together in a tight wad, and I knew 
that to produce that amount of money in such a place as this 
crowded little wine-parlour would probably cause comment. 
Nevertheless, I could not let Pietro, who had certainly taken his 
life into his hands to be of service to me, pay for my refreshment. 
Carefully, a fraction of an inch at a time, I gradually managed 
to separate just one note from the rest, and produced it from my 
pocket. It turned out to be a looo-lire note, and that was more 
than enough to cause eyebrows to lift. 

Pietro welcomed this windfall with ebullience, and was slightly 
tipsy by the time we mounted the cart again at about three in the 
afternoon. He had also become rather talkative, and I was not 
sorry when the wheels started turning, for, apart from considera- 
tion of the risks he was taking, I was anxious to get back to my 
headquarters as quickly as possible. It was not going to be easy 
to explain my impending departure to the men in the foothills, 
for the Minister had made it clear to me that I must not tell them 
where I was going, although I could assure them that they would 



52 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

continue to be looked after. Equally, explanations would be 
difficult with my own hosts and other Italian families in the 
vicinity, who had come to look on me as a sort of local British 
charg d'affaires. 

In fact, I did not get back to my headquarters at all that night. 
When we reached Pietro's farm, which was still a couple of miles 
short of my destination, he cheerfully insisted that I should spend 
the night with his family. I did so, and found conditions rather 
different from those I had experienced in the last two nights in 
the tiny house were fourteen people, sleeping anywhere and every- 
where in their clothes. 

Early next morning I returned to my own billet, where I was 
greeted by my hosts with warmth that turned to rapture when I 
presented them with 4000 lire. To me, it seemed a small price to 
pay in return for their loyalty and help at the risk of their own 
lives. I knew that whatever gratitude there was should be on my 
side, but to them it was clearly a fortune, and for an awful moment 
I thought they were going to fall on their knees. 

That evening I went up to the foothills, briefed the N.C.O.'s 
about the disposal of the money I gave them, and told the escapers 
what I had learned about the general war situation. From their 
point of view, it was not altogether cheerful news. The front line 
had become static, and there was practically no hope of making 
a successful link-up with our forces until the position became 
more fluid, which might well be not before the spring. 

"Any of you who want to make an attempt to get south are 
at liberty to have a go," I told them. "You will be given all the 
help possible but I can't advise you to try. Your best plan is to 
make yourselves as comfortable as possible here, and await de- 
velopments. Don't take any chances, and don't be tempted to 
head for Rome; above all, don't accept invitations to sleep in the 
houses around here the Italians may not all realize that they 
would be risking their lives. I must go away from here now, but 
I can assure you that you won't be forgotten." 

Feeling rather mean, I parried their questions about where 
I was going, and after bidding them farewell and wishing them 
luck, I returned to sleep for the last time in the straw stack which 
had given me such splendid service as hospital, headquarters, and 
home. 

Next morning Pietro had more cabbages for Rome. 



4 



Underground Army 



QUITE suddenly I realized that I was being interrogated. Sir 
D'Arcy Osborne was not talking about escape and evasion at all, 
but was plying me with questions about England and my home 
town of Newark, about my regiment, about people, and places. 

Having been often interrogated by German intelligence officers, 
I knew the form well enough, but it was a new experience to be 
subjected to it by somebody who was unquestionably on our side, 
and it came like a cold anticlimax at the end of a day in which 
I had looked forward, with excited anticipation, to learning 
exactly what I was supposed to do in Rome. 

I had returned to the Eternal City without incident, the mix- 
ture being as before; by Pietro's pony cart to the street market, 
with a brief sojourn under the cabbages while we went through 
the road-block, a change of clothes at Perfetti's flat, an escorted 
tramride to the Collegio Teutonicum, and another successful 
masquerade as a prayerful monsignor to get into the Vatican. 
It had seemed almost too easy, and now, in the Minister's blue 
suit and in the Minister's study, I waited only for my final in- 
structions. 

The Minister seemed to be in no hurry to give them, and I 
became increasingly impatient with his apparent trivial small 
talk until, suddenly, I realized what lay behind it. 

"Sir," I said, when he asked whether I found it more con- 
venient to go through Nottingham when travelling from Newark 
to London, "you are obviously checking on me. But as I want to 
help all I can, I hope you will soon be convinced I am who I say 
lam." 

Sir D'Arcy leaned back, and looked at me directly, his sensitive 
features mingling gravity with mild amusement, in an expression 
with which I was to become very familiar, but which I never 
saw on any other man. "Quite so, major," he said, "but you will 
understand that I have to be very careful. The monsignor never 
checks up on anybody; he simply accepts at face value every one 
who asks him for assistance, and immediately gives all the help 



54 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

he can, whatever the risk. I worry about him sometimes, but 
there seems to be no way of convincing him that his own life 
is well worth preserving. I imagine he made no attempt to check 
up on you?" 

I realized with a pang how easy it would have been for the 
enemy to infiltrate an agent into the line through which I had 
passed, and had to admit that the monsignor had taken me com- 
pletely on trust, although John May had been rather more 
cautious. The British Minister had been still more careful, and 
although I did not know it at the time, he had taken no chances 
from the start. The courtly knight had been the perfect host at 
our first meeting, but had not neglected to send off an urgent 
demand for full information about his guest. His coded message 
had found its way by devious means from the Vatican to the 
Foreign Office, in London, then to the War Office, then to Scot- 
land Yard, and finally to Newark Borough Police Force. In 
Newark Police Inspector Morley called on my father, to give him 
the information that his son, once again reported missing, was 
alive and well, though he knew no more information than that. 
Such, at any rate, was the ostensible reason for his visit, but he 
spent some time chatting with my father, and, by the time he 
left, had a good many personal details about me to add to the 
growing dossier in London. 

Consequently, by the time I returned to the Vatican, Sir 
D'Arcy Osborne knew a good deal about the background of 
Major S. I. Deny, and in his quiet, apparently casual, conversa- 
tion he elicited insignificant details which even the most accom- 
plished pretender or agent could scarcely have acquired. 

My answers apparently satisfied him, and with that the official 
British Organization in Rome for Assisting Allied Escaped 
Prisoners of War was born : a unique military unit, the like of 
which may never be seen again. The Minister's studied reticence 
vanished, and I, previously in possession of only a general out- 
line, was soon flooded with details. The aim was straightforward 
if not simple namely, to build up, on the foundations laid by 
Monsignor O'Flaherty and the Council of Three, an organiza- 
tion capable of keeping the constantly growing numbers of 
escapere converging on the Rome area out of enemy hands. That 
meant finding places for the men to live, ensuring that they 
regularly received food, clothing, and medical supplies, and, 



UNDERGROUND ARMY 55 

where possible, concentrating them in relatively 'safe' coastal areas 
for evacuation by British 'cloak and dagger* forces. 

Sir D'Arcy made it quite clear that because of his delicate 
diplomatic position he would be able to give little direct assistance 
beyond arranging a supply of funds from British Government 
sources, for, although Pope Pius XII had been fearless in his out- 
spoken denunciation of Fascist excesses, there was little doubt that 
the Vatican Secretariat of State would jealously preserve its 
neutrality, even to the extent of withdrawing its hospitality to the 
British Legation if it had any suspicion of abuse. 

"I think I may be able to help you in one way, though," said 
the Minister. "There is no reason why we should not arrange for 
some of the British officers interned in the Vatican to do what- 
ever clerical work you may find necessary, so that you are not 
cluttered up with administrative detail. They have plenty of time 
on their hands, and your paper work will be safer inside the 
Vatican, although you must still be very careful about what you 
put in writing : the fact that the Vatican has never been raided 
does not mean that it never will be, particularly when our advance 
gets near Rome." 

This offer of administrative staff was welcome for it had al- 
ready occurred to me that there would be a mammoth piece of 
paper-work involved. There were more than a thousand escapers 
in contact with the organization, but, apart from those actually 
in Rome and a few others, we did not know who they were. At 
home they would have been posted as missing, and until we knew 
their names there would be no way of attempting to get reassur- 
ances through to their relatives. 

Together the Minister and I discussed the general war situa- 
tion, and pored over maps of Italy. We could see that there was 
no reasonable chance of a rapid Allied advance northward, and 
we realized that any plan to keep escapers out of enemy hands 
would have to be on a long-term basis. On the other hand, Sir 
D'Arcy pointed out that in Rome food supplies had to be chan- 
nelled largely through the black market, that they were already 
scant, and would probably become much scarcer when winter 
settled in. So we decided that, so far as possible, escapers should 
be kept out of Rome, where the risks were greatest, but as it was 
certain that men would still drift into the city, we decided to 
work on the principle of providing accommodation temporarily, 



56 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

while continuously filtering them out into groups in the country- 
side. We could then direct them at the right times either to the 
coastline or somewhere reasonably close to the front line. A study 
of the maps revealed a number of places where it seemed unlikely 
that the Germans would stand and fight, and these I earmarked 
as areas on which to concentrate. 

By the time I had returned with Monsignor O'Flaherty I had 
a profound realization that little could be achieved without his 
help, and I told him, "It's a good thing you're pro-British, mon- 
signor." 

"What makes you think I am ?" he asked sharply. 

His reply took me by surprise, but while I was still fumbling 
for a coherent reply he went on, "I've no reason to be fond of 
the English, you know. Have you ever heard of the Irish 
Troubles? The Black and Tans? Well, I saw it all I was there. 
It didn't leave me with any vast feeling of affection for your 
countrymen." 

Confused, I stammered, "Then why . . . ?" 

"Why am I helping you now ? Well, I'll tell you, me boy. When 
this war started I used to listen to the broadcasts from both sides. 
All propaganda, of course, and both making the same terrible 
charges against the other. I frankly didn't know which side to be- 
lieve until they started rounding up the Jews in Rome. They 
treated them like beasts, making old men and respectable women 
get down on their knees and scrub the roads. You know the sort 
of thing that happened after that; it got worse and worse, and I 
knew then which side I had to believe.'* 

In the monsignor's little room I made my headquarters and 
my home, sleeping on the sofa, and having all my meals brought 
to me by the German sisters, to whom I was passed off by my host 
as a friend of his, one Patrick Deny, an Irish writer employed in 
the Vatican. At first I did not go out at all because, although I 
now had a reasonable civilian wardrobe, the monsignor advised 
against it until he was able to equip me with some sort of identity 
document. 

The document produced for me was no rough forgery : it was 
a genuine Vatican card, bearing a genuine photograph of me in 
my too tight blue suit. But it named me as Patrick Deny, a 
Vatican writer, native of Dublin, and son of Isidore Deny and 
Mary O'Connell; it gave the date of my birth as December 4, 



UNDERGROUND ARMY 57 

1903, which added eleven years to my real age of twenty-nine, 
making me too old for national service, and its date of issue was 
stamped as January 15, 1943, at which time I had actually been 
firmly incarcerated at Chieti. The protection which it gave was, 
in fact, slight, since a simple inquiry to the Vatican authorities, 
or even to the neutral Irish Embassy, would have established very 
quickly that there was no such Irishman in the place as Patrick 
Deny, but, on the other hand, it gave me the opportunity of satis- 
fying casual checks or inquiries in the streets of Rome. 

That I should have to pound the Roman pavements pretty 
thoroughly was clear, for while the greater number of escapers 
remained outside the city, the biggest problem by far was in 
Rome itself. As I saw it, the concentration and supply of the 
'country branch members' was a relatively simple administrative 
matter, but the lone-wolf stragglers who continued to make their 
way into Rome would be a permanent headache. 

I decided to see for myself all the hiding-places which had so 
far been arranged in Rome, and with this plan the monsignor 
was in wholehearted agreement, but for different reasons. He felt 
it would be a good thing if the escapers were shown that they 
were once again under direct military command, and he thought 
it might give a boost to the morale of the Italian helpers if they 
saw something 'official* was being done. 

The first place I wanted to see was the Via Firenze flat, and 
Monsignor O'Flaherty arranged for one of his priests, Father 
Owen Snedden, a New Zealander, to act as guide. There was little 
chance of finding my way about alone, but nevertheless I arranged 
to follow him at a distance, rather than accompany him, for I 
had already decided that the priests must remain uncompromised 
at all costs. 

We went by tram to the Via Firenze, which leads off from 
Via Venti Settembre, the wide road running straight from Rome's 
Buckingham Palace, the Quirinale, to its most famous gate, the 
high arched Porta Pia, and housing along its noble sides most 
of the great Ministry buildings. This is the Whitehall of Rome, 
but, unlike Downing Street, Via Firenze is not a dead-end. It 
opens out on to a great opera house, beyond which lay the for- 
bidding Ministry of the Interior. Only a few blocks away was the 
great railway terminus, which could be guaranteed to contain 
more German soldiers to the square yard than any other part of 



58 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Rome. It would have been hard to think of a less healthy site for 
an escape centre, but I could see the monsignor's point that it was 
unlikely to be a suspect area, and it had the further advantage of 
being close to the dust-sheeted British Embassy, in Via Venti 
Settembre, where individual escapers were still regularly establish- 
ing contact with the caretaker, Secundo Constantini. 

The flat contained two or three English soldiers, who had 
walked out of their camps when the Italians deserted, a fiery 
Jugoslav Communist, a couple of Jugoslav girls, and a British 
officer who was not an escaper for the simple reason that he had 
never been taken prisoner. Lieutenant R. 'Tug* Wilson, R.A., 
already the holder of the D.S.O., as the result of some brilliant 
sabotage work behind enemy lines, had been landed on the 
Adriatic coast prior to the Allied invasion of Italy, and had let 
off a series of interesting explosions on railway lines and docks 
before a submarine, which was due to pick him up, failed to keep 
its rendezvous. He made his way to Rome, and tried to get into 
the Vatican, but arrived just after the Secretariat's ruling that all 
would-be internees were to be forcibly excluded. He was picked 
up bodily by the guards at the gate, and dumped unceremoniously 
in St Peter's Square, where, luckily, he failed to attract German 
attention. He was fortunate enough to be directed to Monsignor 
O'Flaherty, who took him to the Via Firenze flat and brought 
away a letter addressed to the Pope himself, in which Wilson 
complained angrily of the treatment he had received at the Vati- 
can. It says much for the monsignor's sense of humour that he 
actually delivered this expression of injured feelings to the Secre- 
tariat, and in due course returned with an official acknowledg- 
ment, enclosing a personal invitation to visit the Vatican at some 
more propitious time. 

Because of the difficulty of getting back to my 'headquarters' 
on the right side of the curfew, I had arranged with the mon- 
signor to spend the night at Via Firenze, and I found the ex- 
perience somewhat disturbing: we were well within the S.S. 
security cordon, and after the streets had been cleared for the 
night I had great difficulty in getting used to the German 
motor-cycles and patrol-cars, which howled past the windows 
continuously. 

The other occupants of the flat treated the noise of German 
activity with complete indifference, and the Jugoslav Communist 



UNDERGROUND ARMY 59 

kept me up for most of the night in animated argument. Bruno 
Biichner was a man of strong views, and he treated the idea of 
an organization to help Allied escapers with derision. "Why spend 
money on them?" he demanded. "What use are they to the war 
effort? We all ought to be killing Germans, and blowing things 
up" 

Patiently I tried to explain that the numbers of men at large 
would eventually represent a very considerable addition to the 
war effort, if we could keep them well and free, quite apart from 
the even more important humanitarian aspect. Biichner thought 
little of the first point, and nothing at all of the second. The 
farthest he would go was to suggest that all the men should be 
given food, and sent blundering southward. The Jugoslav's argu- 
ments gave me an interesting new outlook on Communist 
philosophy, but I could not foresee then what I learned later: 
that his passion for blowing things up could be a tragically back- 
firing weapon. 

Next morning Graziella, one of the Jugoslav girls, guided me 
back to St Peter's Square, where, as arranged, I found another 
priest waiting for me under the colonnades. Father John Claffey 
led me a little way down the great avenue away from St Peter's, 
then right into Via dei Penitenzieri, where he shared an apart- 
ment with another Irish priest, Father Vincent Treacy, of the 
Congregation of St Mary. Because they lived so close to the 
monsignor's office, they frequently accommodated his latest pro- 
t6g&, and I met three new escapers there. 

Father Claffey then took me to my next guide, a cheerful little 
Maltese named Brother Robert Pace, who was to lead me to the 
home of his gallant countrywoman, Mrs Chevalier, the first to 
provide accommodation for the monsignor's escapers. Brother 
Robert, whose black cassock was ornamented by the little white 
bows of his Order, led me back to the tramstop on the far side of 
the river Tiber. We had, of course, agreed not to sit together, 
but the tram was unexpectedly full, and I found myself com- 
pletely separated from my guide by a crowd of Italians. I won- 
dered, as I 'dozed' on the tram, how I should manage if I lost 
him altogether, but I was not unduly alarmed. I had memorized 
the address to which we were going, and I could manage enough 
Italian to ask, "D'ove la Via Impera?" I should probably have 
failed to make much of a voluble reply, but I was prepared to 



60 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

take a chance on interpreting the gestures which would un- 
doubtedly go with it. In any case, I was pretty sure I could find 
my way back to St Peter's and the Collegio Teutonicum, although 
it might mean a long walk through dangerous streets instead of a 
tramride. By the merest chance, my more pessimistic plans did 
not have to be put to the test; at one stop something seemed to 
compel me to 'wake up 9 and take the risk of staring round be- 
hind me and there was my guide with one foot already on the 
road. I leapt up, pushed my way past the other passengers, and 
jumped off with the tram already moving away. 

Brother Robert led me through a couple of streets, which, like 
so many in Rome, seemed to be a mixture of the seedy and the 
spectacular overcrowded apartments with peeling plaster rub- 
bing lintels with palatial buildings, in a curious classlessness. We 
turned into an entrance between two shops, climbed endless 
stairs, and rang the bell at an apartment door, which was opened 
by a vivacious and voluble little woman with bright dark eyes and 
a kind, motherly face. 

Mrs Chevalier was expecting us, and she welcomed me as 
though I were a long-lost son. She ushered us in, and introduced 
me to the four British soldiers who were billeted with her. Look- 
ing round the tiny flat, I could not imagine how they all man- 
aged to live there at once, and I was amazed at the thought that 
the little widow also had seven of her own offspring in residence. 
It was not surprising that there were mattresses to be seen every- 
where, on the floor, all along the corridor, and propped against 
the walls. 

My intention had been to thank Mrs Chevalier on behalf of 
the British Army for all she had done and was doing, but her 
idea was clearly to have some sort of party. She fussed around, 
setting out food and drink, laughing, and chattering continuously 
to the effect that everything was wonderful. When at last I was 
able to edge a word into the cheerful torrent, and asked if the 
escapers were giving any problems, she replied, "They are ab- 
solutely grand, these boys. They are just like my own children. It 
is all so marvellous." 

If Mrs Chevalier realized that her life was in danger every 
minute she had a single escaper, let alone four, in her care, she 
gave no signs of it. With the same spirit of stoic gallantry that 
earned for her island home a George Cross, she accepted her 



UNDERGROUND ARMY 6l 

r61e in the war as a personal duty, and then proceeded to make 
a pleasure of it. I was embarrassed by the realization that she 
looked upon my visit as an honour bestowed upon her, whereas 
I had, in fact, come to thank her humbly and gratefully. But 
every time I tried she thanked me for letting her have 'her boys/ 
and plied me with pastries and wine. I decided that if I could 
not express my thanks I would at least take the practical step of 
ensuring, so far as lay within my power, that no harm ever befell 
her, and, as a start, I impressed firmly on the four escapers that 
they were in a position of great responsibility, and would be held 
personally answerable if she should find herself in trouble through 
any carelessness or indiscretion of theirs. I was glad to observe 
that they accepted this burden willingly : it was obvious that they 
would gladly have given their own lives to save hers. 

Before I left we also worked out a rudimentary escape drill, 
the cardinal principle of which was that in emergency they should 
get as far away from Via Impera as possible, and thereafter re- 
frain from divulging, even to other escapers, where they had been 
living, for the use of Mrs Chevalier's flat as an unofficial transit 
camp meant that already more than enough people knew of her 
work. Needless to say, my visit to Mrs Chevalier lasted a good 
deal longer than I had expected, and I returned to the Collegio 
Teutonicum only just in time to beat the curfew. 

The course of the next few days followed the same pattern of 
scurrying about Rome under the noses of the enemy, but although 
I felt conspicuous in daylight, I knew that to be found on the 
streets after curfew would invite searching, and possibly a 
disastrous interrogation. I never became quite used to the sudden 
shock of finding myself walking among a group of German 
soldiers, or face to face with a couple of S.S. men as they emerged 
from a caf6, their jack-boots gleaming, and the skull-and-cross- 
bones insignia leering hideously from their lapels; nor did I ever 
conquer the sense of loneliness that walked with me on the streets 
of Rome for if the stranger in a strange land is always lonely heis 
never more so than when he dare not speak, even in his own 
language. 

Then followed a period of reconnaissance rather than action, 
but at every billet I visited I put the senior man in command, and 
instituted a form of evacuation drill, the foundation of which 
was that the escaper should rapidly remove all traces of his 



62 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

occupation before he left. There was not much point in preserving 
the freedom of the escaper if it cost the lives of three or four loyal 
Italians. 

I visited all the other billets in Rome, usually with Monsignor 
O'Flaherty as my guide. If the distance was reasonable we 
walked, partly because I needed the exercise, but chiefly because 
the monsignor liked walking. In any case, tram journeys were 
always worrying, because sometimes a voluble Italian wanted to 
talk, and my 'dozing' act was not invariably successful. 

On one occasion the talkative passenger beside me was not 
a Roman at all but a grey-uniformed German soldier, who de- 
cided that I was just the person on whom to practise his Italian. 
He asked me a question, in what was obviously intended to be 
Italian, but was so mangled by guttural Teutonic intonation that 
I doubt if any Roman citizen could have understood it, let alone 
me. I dared no more than grunt a reply, but the German was 
persistent, and spoke again. Making a show of annoyance at being 
disturbed, I settled more deeply into my 'doze/ but realizing as 
I turned an expressive back to the soldier that this was not the 
sort of behaviour that Germans expected or generally tolerated 
from Italians, I decided not to press my luck too far, and as the 
tram ground to its next stop, I 'awoke* with a start, pushed past 
the soldier, jumped off, and walked quickly down the street. I 
was still far short of my destination, but fortunately the priest 
who was guiding me had noticed what was happening, and got 
off in time to overtake me, and, without speaking, lead me back 
to my proper course. 

I was paying fairly frequent visits to the British Minister to 
report progress, and the monsignor's soutane now sat less un- 
comfortably on my shoulders; indeed, the gendarmes never made 
any effort to challenge me, and the guards around the Collegio 
Teutonicum became so accustomed to the new ^Vatican writer 1 
in the tight blue suit that they even acknowledged me with salutes. 
I was becoming quite adept at behaving with priestly calm and 
dignity on my visits as a monsignor to the Vatican, but it was 
always a relief to get back into the r&le of the Irish Patrick Deny, 
which called for no acting ability. 

On one call at the Vatican Sir D'Arcy Osborne introduced me 
to Captain Henry Judson Byrnes, a Royal Canadian Army Ser- 
vice Corps officer, who had been interned in the Vatican since 



UNDERGROUND ARMY 63 

September. With Major John Munroe Sym, of the Seaforth 
Highlanders, and Sub-Lieutenant Roy Charlton Elliott, a young 
submarine officer, he had broken away from a prison-camp party 
being marched through the back streets of Rome, and they were 
lucky enough to contact a friendly Italian doctor, who drove 
them in his car to the Vatican. There they were promptly taken 
over by the Pontifical Gendarmerie, and lodged in the barracks 
as internees, shortly before the Vatican made its unequivocal 
'no admittance* rule. They were living in the barracks, furiously 
impatient, and annoyed with themselves for having voluntarily 
become internees in the mistaken hope that they would be freed 
within a few weeks by a rapid Allied advance. However, they had 
a certain amount of freedom during the day, and were able to 
visit the British Legation, where eventually the long-suffering 
secretary to the Legation, Mr Hugh Montgomery, surrendered 
his own office for use by them as a sort of clubroom a typical 
gesture by a generous man, whose work for the organization was 
in due course to place escapers all over northern Italy permanently 
in his debt. 

Captain 'Barny' Byrnes was to be my promised administrative 
assistant, and it was pleasing to learn that he and Elliott had 
already begun card-indexing all escapers so far known to- be at 
large in Italy. Although records were reasonably secure with 
Byrnes, we agreed that all documents relating to the day-to-day 
work of the organization for escapers should be placed in tins, 
and buried each night in the Vatican gardens, to which he assured 
me he could gain access after dark. These records, showing how 
the Government's money had been spent, would be available for 
the ultimate day of reckoning with the War Office, but could 
remain safely undisturbed in the meantime. Byrnes tackled his 
mammoth task with enthusiasm, and it was largely through his 
work that we were able, not only to ensure that the assistance we 
were giving went into the right channels, but also to set at rest 
the minds of worried relatives of missing men much sooner than 
might otherwise have been possible. 

On the same day I was introduced to Count Sarsfield Salazar, 
the only member of the original Council of Three whom I had 
not previously met. He told me that the Swiss Embassy was still 
being inundated with requests for help from escapers in the sur- 
rounding countryside, and we arranged that he should continue 



64 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

to send out assistance, with the aid of funds which I would pass 
to him. Unfortunately, his work was interrupted only a few days 
later, when, learning that he had been denounced, he went into 
hiding. It was a timely warning, for two days later the S.S. burst 
into his vacant apartments, and carried out a search so thorough 
that all his valuable furniture was wrecked and most of his per- 
sonal possessions destroyed. The Count remained under cover, 
and his efforts for the organization were naturally restricted, 
although he continued to do much good work in the purchase of 
clothing, food, and medical supplies. 

A more spectacular meeting put me in contact, for the first 
time, with our own forces on the other side of the line. Unaware 
of what was being done in Rome, the British 'cloak and dagger* 
force headquarters in the south of Italy had decided to send an 
agent north with 20,000 lire, to help any Allied escapers or in- 
vaders he might meet. The man chosen was a small dark Italian 
named Peter Tumiati, who had for several years been a political 
prisoner of the Fascists. Tumiati, knowing Rome, naturally knew 
Monsignor O'Flaherty, to whom he sent a message immediately 
upon arriving in the city. The monsignor replied, asking him to 
a rendezvous with me, and so we met in the usual place, under 
the colonnade of St Peter's Square. 

Tumiati told me that he was returning to Ban, on our side 
of the lines, and asked me if there was anything he could do to 
help. My difficulty was that one can scarcely ask an M.I. 9 man 
for his credentials. The monsignor, in whatever way my questions 
were phrased, simply said, "Why, me boy, I know him well," 
and changed the subject. 

There was method as well as madness in the monsignor's out- 
look, for in the 'underground' business one had to have a certain 
amount of faith. However, I thought I had better ask for some- 
thing pretty harmless, and then wait and see whether Tumiati 
came back with it or with a couple of Teutonic friends, so I 
asked him if he could possibly find me a few street-maps of 
Rome. This was an innocuous request, because although maps 
were physically difficult to come by, possession of them was not 
viewed with any suspicion by the authorities, and Tumiati looked 
faintly surprised that I should need assistance in such a simple 
direction. 

"That/ 9 he said, "I can do at once." And he did, picking up 



UNDERGROUND ARMY 65 

a sizeable supply from the back room of a local printer, who was 
known to him. 

Although not inclined to entrust much information to the 
agent, I decided that the most useful and least dangerous thing 
to do was to send back to Bari a list of all the ex-prisoners known 
to be at large. If it fell into enemy hands it would probably tell 
them little they did not already know, since it could be assumed 
that the Germans had by now discovered the loss of several hun- 
dreds of prisoners; but, on the other hand, it would be of immense 
value to our own side, and would indicate to Military Intelligence 
that some sort of organization in Rome was looking after escapers. 

"If we are to do this," I said to Monsignor OTlaherty and 
John May, "and the Germans catch Tumiati with it, he will cer- 
tainly be shot. We have to find a way of giving him a sporting 
chance of smuggling it through the country." 

"Microfilm the lot," said John May thoughtfully. "I can 
arrange it," he grinned, giving the broadest possible wink, which 
I took as a recommendation not to inquire too deeply into his 
methods. 

The tiny microfilm, which John May produced a few hours 
later, was so small that it was hard to believe that it could contain 
in legible form perfect copies of all the lists prepared by 'Barney' 
Byrnes, running now to nearly 2000 names, numbers, and ranks. 

"Where do we go from here ?" I mused. 

Again it was the ingenuity of John May that produced the 
answer. He took the film away, and later returned with a number 
of small loaves of the type the Italians were always seen carry- 
ing. He had put the film into the dough and baked it. 

"There!" said John May happily, "and a better bit of bread 
you won't find in Italy, though I say it myself." 

Peter Tumiati was delighted with the ruse, and promised that 
if he got through to Bari a particular phrase at the end of a B JJ.C. 
broadcast from London would give us the news in due course. 

"Don't eat the wrong one !" I grinned as he departed. 

I listened to the B.B.C. broadcasts, and, sure enough, one 
night some weeks later a single phrase told me that Tumiati had 
been as good as his word. The British were now in possession of 
a list of the escapers in our care, and in nearly two thousand 
homes missing had become 'Missing but known to be safe.' Un- 
fortunately, the list was now far out of date. 



66 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

In the meantime I had made another unexpected contact. 
Umberto Losena had been a major in the Italian paratroop 
corps, but after the German occupation of Rome he had volun- 
teered to work against the Germans, and had been trained by the 
British as a radio-operator. He had arrived in Rome to find out 
whatever he could about the enemy, and report back by means 
of a tiny British transmitter in a suitcase. 

The monsignor brought the ex-major to me, and I liked him 
on sight : he was a handsome man, and there was a burning in- 
tegrity in his dark eyes. He had the singular, calculated courage 
of all underground radio-operators for the man who was caught 
with a secret radio knew that he could expect only torture until 
he talked, and only death when he talked. Losena had a glowing 
loathing of the Nazis, and his eagerness to help the organization 
extended far beyond sending the occasional message to Ban. "I 
am an Italian/ 5 he smiled, spreading his hands, "I can go any- 
where for you." 

He was the first free-lance agent, able to travel with relative 
freedom anywhere in the country, to come my way, and he soon 
became one of my most valuable contacts. He would visit me two 
or three times every week, and take supplies to the escapers and 
evaders all over the provinces of Lazio and Umbria. 

But I did not forget that Umberto Losena was in Rome for the 
purpose of relaying information about the Germans. The men I 
visited in the billets often saw troop and other movements, and 
I made a point of noting details, like the unit badges worn by 
German soldiers I saw. It was satisfying to be playing an attack- 
ing r61e again, though in but a small way, and in any case I felt 
that the military side of the organization ought, if possible, to pro- 
vide some return for the British taxpayer's money being expended 
on it. We comprised two thousand potential agents behind enemy 
lines, and it was a natural duty to keep our eyes open for any- 
thing useful to the intelligence people. But I think I got the better 
of the bargain. Apart from his direct assistance to the organiza- 
tion, Losena enabled me to put into operation a plan for the 
supply and evacuation of some of our escapers. 

Messages to Ban arranged successful supply-drops from Royal 
Air Force planes to two of our largest country groups, at Mon- 
torio Romano and Nerola, some miles north of Rome, and four 
separate drops of parachute canisters not only relieved the strained 



UNDERGROUND ARMY 67 

resources of the organization but also overcame, for a time, the 
problem of transporting vast quantities of stores out of Rome. 

With Losena's radio it was also possible to arrange for three 
successful evacuations of escapers concentrated near the Adriatic 
beaches. In each case the 'cloak and dagger* boys sent in field 
teams, who arranged for the escapers to be on the right spot at 
the right time, and in each case the remarkable nearly indepen- 
dent force known as Topski's Private Army' landed a tough de- 
tachment to form a bridgehead, and, if necessary, engage the 
Germans while the ex-prisoners were loaded on to the waiting 
troop landing craft. 

TTie c cloak and dagger* boys were prepared for trouble on any 
scale, but the remarkable fact is that several hundred escapers 
were moved to the beaches, and spirited into the night without 
attracting any attention at all from the Germans; not a single 
shot was fired. 

These three operations, despite their audacity, must have been 
among the cheapest of the war but not for Umberto Losena, 
whose little wireless-set had made them possible. He always made 
his transmissions from the same place, and gradually the Gestapo 
net tightened around him, as direction-finding equipment took 
new bearings on each successive signal. He was arrested, and my 
gloomy foreboding that we should never see him again was f ul- 
filled. 

The lesson of the gallant Italian was taken to heart, and there- 
after secret radio-operators working in Rome in time there were 
four sent each message from a different place, often working 
from park benches while apparently making love to a girl. Rome 
has many parks and public gardens, and it was never necessary 
for an operator to send his messages from a building. The con- 
tinuous changes of location defeated the Gestapo direction-finders, 
who possibly believed that there were a hundred secret trans- 
mitters in Rome, but so far as I am aware no other Allied operator 
was ever arrested. 

Security ruses such as these were beyond me during my first 
week or two in command of the new organization, for most of my 
early thoughts about security were directed against Monsignor 
O'Flaherty's extraordinary habit of introducing all sorts of char- 
acters, some of whom I viewed dubiously. Sometimes he sent a 
message asking me to come down to the Holy Office to meet some 



68 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

one, but often, without any warning, he would throw open the 
door of his room, in which he was harbouring an escaped British 
officer without the approval of his superiors, and usher in a com- 
plete stranger. 

It was in this disconcerting manner that I met two immaculate 
Frenchmen, Jean de Blesson and Frangois de Val, whom the 
monsignor gaily introduced as first and second secretaries at the 
Ambassade de France unaware, I presumed, that French em- 
bassies were units of the Vichy Government, which was actively 
collaborating with the Germans. 

The two Frenchmen welcomed me almost passionately, and 
lost no time in pointing out that the French Ambassador was, in- 
deed, a Vichy man, hand in glove with the German Military 
Government. His embassy, on the other hand, was the head- 
quarters of the Free French movement in Rome, which De Vial 
and De Blesson were spending almost all their time organizing. 
I had now had several meetings with Blon Kiernan, and had 
become used to the idea of an Irish Embassy headed by a strict 
neutral with a wholly pro-British family, but I was surprised by 
this even more extreme division in the French Embassy. 

De Vial and De Blesson were not merely pro-British: they 
wanted to work positively against the Germans straight away. 
Volubly and enthusiastically they offered me the use of all the 
resources of their organization. Embarrassingly they made it clear 
that they looked to me, as the only British commander in Rome, 
for instruction on all matters of war policy. Although I could not 
see myself in the r&le of a sort of underground elderly statesman, 
I accepted their offer of help gratefully. 

An astonishing number of underground organizations seemed 
to be operating in Rome. Apart from the Free French and our- 
selves, there were the Royal Jugoslavs and the Jugoslav Com- 
munists, the organization of Roman noble families and the Italian 
Communists all with remarkable 'grape-vines, 9 which soon told 
them of me and my hopes. In normal times the people making 
up these groups would have been at each other's throats, but 
now they all wanted the same thing the defeat of Germany. 
One by one, their representatives contacted me, all offering help, 
though some were more concerned with active subversion and 
sabotage than with the maintenance of escaped prisoners. I was 
the first British commander they had met, and most of them 



UNDERGROUND ARMY 69 

assumed, quite wrongly, that I was in direct touch with the armies 
in the field. Consequently, like the French secretaries, they started 
looking to me for policy decisions, and I found myself, rather to 
my surprise, the mandatory leader of a unique underground 
army or, as I preferred to think of it, the honorary presi- 
dent of a sort of United Nations conglomeration of 'kindred 
societies/ 

The most swashbuckling, although one of the smallest, of the 
underground movements was that of the Greeks, and my first 
introduction to them rather took my breath away. Presented to 
me by the monsignor, Evangelo Averoff and Theodore Meletiou 
immediately announced that the latter, on a trip to the north of 
Italy, had discovered a spectacular group of British escapers : three 
generals, an air vice-marshal, and four brigadiers. 

Averoff, a former Prefect of Corfu, who was later to become 
his country's foreign minister at a time when relations with Eng- 
land were far less amicable, did most of the talking. He said that 
Meletiou had been taken prisoner, while fighting in the Greek 
army, and subsequently escaped. He had been travelling about 
the country looking for other Greek escapeis who were in need 
of assistance, was just about to head north again, and his services 
were at my disposal. 

I was not sure what to do for the best, for while it was clearly 
desirable for me to establish contact with the impressive addition 
to the 'country branch/ I certainly did not consider Rome at the 
present time to be a secure place in which to hide eight very senior 
British officers. Finally, I gave Meletiou, who used the code name 
'Mario,' 10,000 lire for the officers, and suggested he might lead 
one of them but not more back to Rome if he could manage 
it. Mario did not seem to consider this a formidable assignment, 
and set off happily on his travels, but I confess that I never really 
expected to see him again, let alone one of the generals. How- 
ever, I was to learn, like the Trojans and the Italian Fascists be- 
fore me, that it is unwise to underestimate the Greeks. 

The generals would have been an embarrassing addition to my 
company of underground Romans, but apart from that, the whole 
object of my strategy at that time was to keep the traffic flowing in 
the opposite direction from Rome into the country. With the 
help of rural priests and villagers, we had, in fact, managed to 
move a good number of billctees from Rome out to the greater 



70 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

safety of the country groups, but as soon as we laboriously evacu- 
ated a few, others drifted in to the city. From all over northern 
Italy Allied escapers were still making a bee-line for Rome, mostly 
with the out-dated idea of surrendering for internment at the 
Vatican. Not only the escapers themselves, but the Italians who 
helped them, thought this was the right thing to do. As soon, 
therefore, as we stopped a trickle from one direction, a stream 
started coming in from another. 

I decided that we should have to provide a reception centre, 
so that large numbers could be lodged at short notice if necessary, 
while alternative billets were found. So we cleared the flats at 
Via Firenze and Via Chelini. 

There was a risk in keeping large groups of escapers in one 
place, even for a short time. Too many eggs were in one basket. 
But there were advantages, for it gave us time to interrogate new 
arrivals, check their stories, and so reduce the growing danger of 
admitting a stool-pigeon into the line. Moreover, the flats gave 
us a certain amount of breathing-space, since finding 'lodgings' 
with Italian families could not be done on the spur of the moment, 
and the number of men who could be accommodated in any one 
'cell' as the billets became known was restricted; often just a 
couple, and sometimes only one. 

By the beginning of December the number of escapers and 
evaders on the organization's books had passed well beyond the 
2000 mark, and there were eighty precariously hidden in Rome 
itself. Even with the two flats, finding accommodation for this 
number was a serious problem, and the supply of food was be- 
coming daily more difficult. The most severe winter for many 
years had begun, and, one way and another, the Rome organiza- 
tion was stretched to its limits. Once again, the only solution 
seemed to be an increase of staff. Monsignor O'Flaherty's priests 
were working wonders, but I considered they were already carry- 
ing too heavy a burden, and they could not become involved in 
the expanding intelligence work now becoming an important part 
of the military side of the organization. We needed a couple more 
officers, confident, yet with a sound sense of security, and pre- 
ferably able to speak Italian with some fluency. So I began to 
size men up for reasons other than mere caution as I interviewed 
the new arrivals. Most of those interviews took place in Mon- 
signor O'Flaherty's office on the ground floor at the Holy Office, 



UNDERGROUND ARMY *Jl 

to which escapers were directed in a steady stream by a host of 
agencies, and to which I was constantly being invited over the 
internal telephone. 

The monsignor, needless to say, welcomed every new arrival 
with cheerful enthusiasm, and paid no attention to my repeated 
protests that he was putting himself in danger. "Don't worry, me 
boy," was always his reply. Nevertheless, I could not help worry- 
ing for the safety of this great and generous man. I broke into a 
cold sweat every time I contemplated how readily he might help 
some reasonably competent Gestapo agent to uncover all his 
activities, and how easy it would be for the Germans to get a 
stool-pigeon into the organization's headquarters. 

On December 8, beaming all over his face, Monsignor 
OTlaherty flung open the door of his room, and announced, in 
a resonant boom that echoed all the way down the corridor, "An- 
other new arrival for you, Patrick.' 5 Turning, I caught my breath. 
I recognized at once the dark, inscrutable face and die small 
sallow frame of the multi-lingual Cypriot, whom I believed re- 
sponsible for the treacherous denunciation of the escape com- 
mittee at Chieti prison camp. It was Joe Pollak. And, for all I 
knew, the monsignor had already given away enough to get him- 
self shot. 



5 



No Red Tabs 



EVER since I started working for the organization, I had been 
looking out for people from Chieti, particularly now I was seek- 
ing potential assistants, but I had never given a thought to Joe 
Pollak, who was certainly the last man from P.G.si I wanted to 
see in Rome. Yet here he was, and losing my head would only 
add to whatever trouble we were in already, so I steeled myself to 
greet him politely. I decided that the best way of preventing him 
from finding out any more was to do the asking myself. 

"It's a hell of a surprise to see you here," I told him truth- 
fully. "How did you manage it?" Pollak, who seemed quite at 
his ease, said he had been underground with a large number^ of 
escapers and evaders in Sulmona, eighty miles to the east. This, 
at least, I knew could be true, because a good deal of financial 
assistance had been going there through an Italian girl. 

"Things got a bit hot at Sulmona," Pollak continued. "The 
Jerries were raiding everywhere, and our Italian 'padrones' started 
to lose their nerve. Most of the chaps decided to get away until 
things calmed down a bit, and some of us thought we would 
make for Rome. I've left the others in a hotel here. I came with 
six others, apart from a couple of Italian girls." 

This seemed to be the obvious way for an agent to infiltrate 
himself into the organization, and the fact that it was difficult to 
get people into the city only increased my suspicions. Quite apart 
from that, even if all were genuine escapers, it meant seven ad- 
ditional mouths for the organization to feed at a time when our 
strategy was to get people out into the country. I must lose either 
way. If his six companions did not exist Pollak was certainly 
working for the enemy; if they did, and were genuine, it was 
still possible that he was an agent who had infiltrated with 
them. 

Playing for time, I asked for the names of those he had brought 
with him, and he started his catalogue. "Well, there's Lieutenant 
Furman, Lieutenant Simpson . . ." 

This was better news indeed, for John Furman and Bill Simp- 



NO RED TABS 73 

son, both Gunner lieutenants, had been close friends of mine at 
Chieti, and I knew that they were men who could be trusted 
implicitly. Both had made escapes in the Sulmona area some time 
before my own jump from the train. 

Simpson, tall and thin, with a slow, calm smile, and sensitive 
hands that had managed to coax music from an unfriendly 
double bass in the Chieti camp orchestra, had, in fact, contrived 
to avoid the Sulmona camp altogether. On the way there in a 
lorry, with about thirty other prisoners, he had jumped over the 
side as the vehicle turned into the lane leading to the camp. His 
timing was impeccable, for the turn diverted the attention of the 
German guards, and also brought the lorry sufficiently close to the 
hedge at the side of the road to enable him to plunge clean over 
it into a field, where, shaken but unharmed, he lay low for a 
while, and then got away while the Germans at the camp were 
still trying to work out how and where they had lost him. 

Furman, a complete contrast in temperament and appearance, 
was short, wiry, red-headed and dynamic, a master of the theory 
of escape, and endowed with more initiative than any other 
prisoner I had known. No troglodyte, he confessed that tunnels 
took too long to produce results for his tastes. Always during our 
discussion of various schemes at Chieti, he favoured the use of 
subterfuge, although many of his ideas were impracticable for 
anybody without his fluency in both German and Italian. Unlike 
Simpson, his close friend, Furman was transported to Sulmona 
camp by the Germans, but he did not condescend to stay for very 
long before bamboozling them into letting him walk out again, 
unhindered, and in broad daylight. He persuaded the Germans 
to allow prisoners to go, under armed escort, out of camp, and 
down the road to a village horse-trough, where they could wash. 
This, he pointed out to the hygiene-conscious Germans, would 
reduce the danger of lice infestation in a camp that suffered from 
a chronic shortage of water. He enjoyed his first wash, although 
he and his companions startled the Italian peasants by stripping 
naked, and plunging bodily into the trough. But his principal aim 
in going out with the first party was to survey the geography be- 
yond the double wire, and an opportunity to put his new know- 
ledge to good use came only a day or two later. He saw another 
column heading through the gates towards the trough, so, on 
the spur of the moment, he grabbed a towel, and rushed after 



74 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

them, explaining in breathless German to the sentry who stopped 
him at the gate, "I'm with that party, I'm a bit late." Curtly 
commanded to hurry after them, Furman made every pretence 
of doing so, trotting diligently, but carefully refraining from 
closing the fifty-yard gap between him and the two armed guards 
at the rear of the marching column. He was still fifty yards behind 
when he followed them round a bend in the lane, where a hedge 
obscured the view of the sentry at the gates, and, bending sud- 
denly double, he charged straight through the hedge, and into the 
very field from which Bill Simpson had begun his escape. 

I had heard nothing of either since their rejection of further 
German hospitality, and their arrival in Rome seemed to me too 
good to be true. It was clear that the only way to find out if Pollak 
was telling the truth was to see them for myself. 

"Would you feel happy about going back now, and returning 
here again to-morrow ?" 

"Certainly," he said. 

"Very well, then. Come back in the morning, and bring Lieu- 
tenant Furman with you, will you ?" 

I was watching Pollak keenly as I spoke, but he remained 
impassive, and seemed not at all perturbed. Alter he had gone, I 
was alternately depressed, as I thought of the danger to which the 
whole organization seemed exposed, and elated, at the prospect 
of a reunion with John Furman. If Furman really was in Rome 
I knew that he would jump at the chance of helping with the 
work, and no one was more suited to the task. 

Reckoning that sufficient risks had already been taken, I 
arranged to be told of Pollak's arrival at the inquiry office next 
morning, and to go down there instead of allowing him and who- 
ever he brought to be shown up. When the messenger came I 
made my way with mixed feelings to the porter's office. Two 
visitors were already facing the door when I opened it, and with 
delight I recognized the unmistakable diminutive form of John 
Furman, thinner than I remembered him, but still wiry, and 
obviously bursting with suppressed energy. 

"Sam!" he shouted, and then looked round him guiltily, as 
though remembering he was not in a British officers' club. I knew 
that we were safe enough, and that the one or two guards potter- 
ing about the room were friends. 

"John, you old beggar! It's damned good to see you !" I ex- 



NOREDTABS 75 

claimed, and there followed a welter of hand-shaking and back- 
slapping. 

As I led Furman and Pollak through the courtyard to the Col- 
legio Teutonicum, I learned that they had arrived at the Vatican 
in style, Pollak, with his supremely confident command of the lan- 
guage, having engaged a carrozza, or horse-drawn cab, so that 
Furman should see something of the glories of Rome on the way. 

Outside the college I collected a salute from a guard to whom 
I had by now become a familiar figure. 

"You seem to be pretty well known around here," said Furman, 
wide-eyed. 

"I know most of the guards in this part," I admitted. 'They 
are all first-class chaps. But be careful don't jump to the con- 
clusion that all the guards at the Vatican will be so friendly." 

At the door of the room which I shared with the monsignor 
we paused, and I told Furman to go in while I took Pollak to an 
empty room at the end of the corridor, where I asked him to 
wait. I was determined to get Furman alone, and find out how 
they had come in contact with each other. 

Remembering the warm hospitality that had made my own 
first visit to the monsignor's room such a delight, I did not im- 
mediately broach the subject with Furman, but told him to make 
himself comfortable, and offered him a drink. 

"Well, just one, as this is a bit of an occasion," he replied, "but, 
by and large, I have to keep off the stuff. They tell me it is no 
good for dysentery." 

I assured him that could be put right, because by now the 
escapers in Rome had their own underground health service, 
supplied by a couple of R.A.M.C. officers a doctor and a 
dentist. 

"I expect you are wondering where Pollak is," I said, as we 
set our glasses down, and Furman nodded. "Well, John, before 
I take him into my confidence, I want you to tell me everything 
you know about him. We were not at all sure about him at Chieti 
thought he might be the stool-pigeon. We couldn't prove any- 
thing, but the stories he told about his capture in Greece and 
transfer to Italy never seemed to add up. What do you think?" 

"I think," said Furman slowly, "that Joe Pollak is one of the 
most terrific chaps I've ever met." 

This was unexpected, but I began to understand what he meant 



76 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

as he gave me an outline of what had happened to him since 
he walked out of the prison camp at Sulmona. After bursting 
through the hedge, Furman had lain low in his field for seven 
hours before judging it safe to proceed, and even then he had 
difficulty in keeping out of the way of the searchlights, which 
continuously swept the surrounding countryside from towers set 
along the barbed-wire perimeter of the camp. His aim was to 
walk south, and join up with the Allied forces, but first he had 
to skirt the town of Sulmona. This took all night, crawling through 
streams and bogs, but at dawn he found to his disgust he was 
back where he had started. He hid in a hut, where he was dis- 
covered by some Italian boys, who fortunately turned out to be 
friendly, and took him to a family just outside the town. There 
the son of the house, a former lieutenant in the Italian artillery, 
agreed to help him on his way south. 

But first, the Italian said, Furman must stay long enough to 
meet a friend of his. He rummaged through a pile of books, and 
brought out a small photograph. It was of Joe Pollak. After a 
couple of wearying days, Pollak arrived at the house, well dressed 
in civilian clothes, and looking prosperous. He explained that he 
had been one of a large group of prisoners who had escaped when 
their guards deserted, and had taken to the mountains near Sul- 
mona. There, because of his knowledge of the language, he had 
been appointed liaison officer with the Italians. Eventually, he 
obtained forged identity papers as a 'medical student,' and was 
moving quite freely about the town, where he had formed a 
number of anti-Fascist families into a loose organization aimed at 
helping Allied escapers. Furman was delighted to learn that the 
officer who was engaged in organizing the escapers into billets 
was none other than his old friend, Lieutenant Bill Simpson, and 
was all in favour of meeting him at once, but Pollak advised 
against attempting to wander around Sulmona looking like the 
least prosperous sort of tramp, and suggested that he should wait 
until he was re-kitted. 

Several days later Furman and Simpson were reunited, and 
they shared the growing work of organizing the escaped prisoners. 
Between them they arranged the audacious escape by sheet- 
ladder of seven prisoners from the local hospital and the Italian 
woman doctor, who had been looking after them, went too, de- 
ciding that she could do more for her own patients if she set tip 



NO RED TABS 77 

headquarters in the hills than if she remained under close German 
supervision. 

The Germans, in fact, had a tight hold on Sulmona, and 
round-ups were frequent. When the usual accompaniment of 
shouting, door-battering, and hysterics announced another raid, 
one night in October, Furman hid in a bush in the garden, and 
was just congratulating himself on a narrow escape when he got 
up to find himself face to face with a German soldier. It would 
be difficult to say which was the more surprised, but the Briton 
was the quicker to react : he gave the German a hearty shove in 
the chest with both hands, sprinted away, and leapt at a three- 
foot fence. Unfortunately, Furman was never designed for 
hurdling, and he picked himself up painfully on the other side, 
to find that he was surrounded by menacing Germans. He was 
added to a growing group of captives, but, on looking round, 
recognized hardly any of them, and when the explanation 
dawned on him he was not sure whether to be amused or horri- 
fied. This was not a round-up of escaped prisoners-of-war and 
their helpers, but a routine collection of Italians for forced labour. 

The idea of becoming a slave labourer for Hitler's Reich did 
not greatly appeal to Furman, but he spent a fortnight digging 
vehicle pits under German supervision at a site some miles from 
Sulmona. He put little effort into his spade-work, but devoted a 
good deal of energy to investigating the possibility of bribing his 
way out of the labour camp. At length it paid dividends, for with 
the connivance of a disgruntled Austrian guard, he slipped 
through the gate, and walked back to Sulmona. 

He revelled in the welcome he received from Simpson and 
Pollak, but in Sulmona food, clothing, medical supplies, and 
accommodation were all becoming more difficult to obtain in 
the absence of money. After a long discussion, they hit upon the 
idea of trying to get an appeal to the British diplomats in the 
Vatican, and Iride, a Sulmona girl, who regularly thumbed her 
way to Rome and back on German vehicles, in connexion with 
her successful black-market activities, undertook to deliver the 
message. 

Her success astonished the group, for she returned with 40,000 
lire, as well as an unsigned note (from me), warning the escapers 
not to attempt to make their way to Rome at the present time. 
Thereafter, as I knew well enough at the Vatican end, Iride's 



78 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

journeys which the Sulmona escapers suspected were facilitated 
by the provision of some personal satisfaction for the German 
drivers became a regular supply line. Iride used some of the 
money she received for the purchase in Rome of pullovers, socks, 
and other essential supplies, and at Sulmona Bill Simpson or- 
ganized the distribution of cash, food, and clothing to the various 
houses where escapers were accommodated. 

In other respects, however, the Sulmona situation was de- 
teriorating, and when one entire Italian family was arrested and 
shot for harbouring an escaper the whole town became jittery. 
One night the Germans raided an area in which Simpson, Fur- 
man, and a dozen others were living, searching every house, with 
one exception. In the one house they overlooked all the escapers 
were having a birthday party. Minutes before the clatter of Ger- 
man jack-boots and the thudding of rifle-butts on the doors had 
shaken the houses on either side, the escapers had been happily 
singing Roll out the Barrel. 

After that raid, which could so easily have cost the lives of a 
dozen Italian families, since the German death penalty was more 
than an idle threat, the escapers evacuated their billets. Most 
went back to the hills, unwillingly enough in the face of approach- 
ing winter, and a few tried to make their way south to the lines, 
but soon returned. With the front now static, that avenue, they 
reported, was firmly blocked. 

Simpson, Furman, Pollak and four others took up residence 
in the church tower, and they decided, in spite of the anonymous 
advice they had received, that their best hope lay in Rome. The 
journey was organized by Pollak, who almost alone still dared to 
be seen abroad in Sulmona, and although he was frequently 
stopped, he always managed to talk his way out of trouble. When 
the morning train puffed out of Sulmona on December 8 it con- 
tained about a hundred Germans, a handful of Italians, and seven 
Allied escapers, accompanied by two Italian girls Iride and her 
sister, Maria. Their tickets had been obtained by Pollak and the 
girls, each of whom had purchased three at the booking-office, 
but during the journey Iride, in conversation with the conductor, 
discovered that because of the number of refugees flooding into 
Rome, an order had been made forbidding entrance to anybody 
without a permit signed by the German military governor. The 
party decided that a couple of guards on a country road would 



NOREDTABS 79 

be a less formidable obstacle than half a dozen at a station barrier, 
and luck was with them, for the train halted, quite unaccount- 
ably, in the middle of nowhere, while still ten kilometres short of 
Rome. Seven men and two girls, all carrying suitcases, jumped 
down, and made off across the tracks and, without interest, the 
Germans on the train watched them go. 

It was Joe Pollak again who got them through the road-block: 
his smooth line of talk, backed up by hysterical demonstrations by 
the girls, convinced the Italian guard that they were all members 
of one family, bombed out of Sulmona, and now making their 
way to their only surviving relative in Rome. The German guard 
at the post, contemptuous of the whole affair, left everything to 
the Italian, who eventually let all nine pass, with only a glance at 
their false identity cards. 

Iride led them to a small hotel in Via Cavour, the wide road 
running from the main railway station to the Foro Romano, 
centre of the fantastic ruins of ancient Rome. Ironically, this 
took them right past the station which they had been at such pains 
to avoid, but the hotel itself was quiet, and kept by a proprietor 
not fussy about the identity of his guests. The two girls collected 
some food from a near-by restaurant, and after the meal Pollak 
and Iride set off for the Vatican, where it was assumed that he 
was going to contact a British diplomat. 

"You can't imagine what it was like when he got back yester- 
day evening," said Furman. "He was in a state of obvious ex- 
citement, and told us we would never guess who he had been with. 
Everybody demanded to know at once, and I imagine Bill's face 
and mine must have been a picture when he said 'Major Deny.' 
He practically went through the third-degree treatment, but he 
wouldn't tell us anything except that you wanted to see me." 

I hurried off down the corridor to collect the waiting Pollak. 
"I owe you an apology," I said, as soon as we got back to the 
monsignor's room. "The reason I separated you was because I 
thought you might be a stool-pigeon. From what John has told 
me, I now know I couldn't have been more wrong. You have 
done a wonderful job of work, and I apologize for having doubted 
you." 

Pollak showed no signs of concern at the discovery that I had 
been treating him as a traitor, and I realized that the inscruta- 
bility, which had no doubt stood him in good stead in many 



80 THEROMEESOAPELINE 

dangerous situations at Sulmona, was likely to be a valuable asset 
to the escape organization in Rome. I had already earmarked Fur- 
man for a place in the organization, and I now knew that Pollak, 
with his even greater command of languages, would be no less of 
an acquisition. I took both men completely into my confidence, 
and outlined what was being done for escapers in and around 
Rome. 

They were both captivated by the exploits of the monsignor, 
and Furman, who had yet to meet him, was so intrigued by the 
idea of a^ Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican that he kept asking 
me questions about his character. I was always learning new 
things about him myself, and was able to give a glittering illus- 
tration. Rummaging around the untidy papers on the desk, I 
found a heavy gold chain, something like those worn by English 
mayors. "Every link is of solid gold," I explained. "It was given 
to the monsignor by a Jew just before he set off south to try to 
join our people on the other side of the lines. I don't know whether 
he got through or not, but I do know that his family are well 
looked after. He had the foresight to put them in the care of the 
monsignor and each single link in that chain will keep them 
fully provided for a month." 

I told them that they, too, were worth their weight in gold, 
and could be gifts from heaven to the organization. 

I explained that we were seated inside the Vatican's protective 
wall, but were not actually inside the Vatican City; we were on 
what is called extra-territorial property. "All the same," I said, 
"I can easily show you how to get inside and have yourselves com- 
fortably interned for the duration. All you have to do is to turn 
left instead of right as you leave here, and walk through the back 
gate. If you tried to get in through the main gates you would 
certainly be turned back, but from here you can walk straight 
through to the gendannerie, give yourself up, and spend a nice 
quiet time until our troops reach Rome. Any takers ?" 

Both scorned the idea of a peaceful internment, and instead 
demanded to know when they could get down to a job of work. 
Then consider yourselves on the staff as from now," I beamed 
Sorry about one thing, though I can't offer you any red tabs 
to sew on your uniforms. Only a cup of tea to celebrate." 

"Fine," said Funnan, "but before we start the bun-fight I 
should tell you that just as we were leaving the hotel Bill Simpson 



NO RED TABS 8l 

said, 'If there's a job of work to be done put in a word for me.* Is 
this the right time to do it ?" 

"When you get back tell Bill he's joined. And now let's have 
that brew up I don't suppose either of you has had a decent cup 
of tea for months." 

As I put on the kettle I felt enormously elated : I had started 
the day with a faint hope that I might be able to enrol one military 
assistant, had later acquired two, and had ended up with three, 
all of whom spoke Italian with some fluency. All would be able to 
find their way about Rome, and each would be a distinct acquisi- 
tion. 

As we sipped our tea, and talked about some of the problems 
of keeping hundreds of men at large in enemy territory, John 
Funnan asked why we did not get more men inside the Vatican. 
This question was put in different forms by others later, and my 
explanation was put this way. 

"There is a hell of an inquiry when anybody does get in, and 
you can bet your boots that if we started pushing people through 
it would soon be traced back to one person, which would put him 
and us all in a very tricky position. But there is another reason. 
The Germans have been reasonably tolerant about the neutrality 
of the Vatican up to now, but if we start filling the place up with 
escapers they will simply march in, put all our chaps back in the 
bag, and close the legation. That would mean sacrificing the wel- 
fare of all the hundreds we are maintaining outside Rome for the 
sake of the few, at best, that we could get into the Vatican." 

"In other words," said John, "at the point where your organiza- 
tion comes in, the escaper can consider the Vatican ruled out?" 

That was the position in a nutshell. 

Pollak's forged identity documents were excellent in every re- 
spect, and we could not do much to improve them beyond the 
addition of some papers basing him in Rome, but the photograph 
on John Furman's Italian identity card showed him as a rather 
seedy tramp, with a scarf wound tightly round his neck. I gazed 
at it sadly, and sighed, "What is the Royal Artillery coming to?" 

"I couldn't help it," said Funnan ruefully, "I hadn't got a 
collar and tie." 

The kindred societies soon came into action to help the new- 
comers. The French secretary, De Vial, took money from me to 
them at their hotel, and two Jugoslavs took the escapers in pairs 



82 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

to a warehouse, where they were fitted out with fresh clothing 
from the stocks of a relief organization run by Capuchin monks. 
Monsignor O'Flaherty organized social calls by several of his 
priests on the hotel-bound group, and I arranged for the Italian 
girls, Iride and Maria, to return to Sulmona with fresh supplies of 
money for the ex-prisoners still hiding there. 

It was more difficult to fix billets for the three men I wanted 
in action in the city, but the Free French undertook to find a 
temporary home for the new staff, while I arranged for the others 
to go "up the hill" to our safest hiding-place. That was the only 
description used for the Collegio Americano. Situated on the top 
of a high hill on the western outskirts of the city, it had been 
brought into use by a former corporal in the Pope's bodyguard, 
one Antonio Call, who rounded up a few Allied escapers on his 
own, and ensconced himself there to look after them. Small adap- 
tions to the outbuildings had created the perfect hide, for, if 
necessary, a pretty large number of men, but to preserve its 
security we ruled that those who went there did so on the under- 
standing that they did not move again until our troops occupied 
Rome. They had pleasant surroundings, reasonable comfort, 
above average safety, and perhaps the best meals of any of our 
larger groups, but against these advantages "the hill" was in the 
nature of an internment camp. 

Such a billet was, of course, useless for Furman, Simpson, and 
Pollak, but De Vial managed to find temporary accommodation 
for them with a family in a working-class flat at Tor Pignatara, 
a suburb in the south-east although this, apparently, entailed 
the eviction of a Frenchman who had been lodging there. 

Pasqualino Perfetti, the greasy pseudo-priest, my first contact 
in Rome, was now spending most of his time as a sort of billeting 
agent for the French who, unlike Monsignor O'Flaherty, were 
able to pay him sizeably for his services and he was sent by De 
Vial to guide my three 'staff officers' to their temporary quarters, 
where they discovered that the evicted Frenchman was still in 
possession of the smaller of the only two beds. 

Next day they reported for duty, having come in from their 
suburb by train and trolley-bus, during the rush hour. This taught 
them, the hard way, a new aspect of the lesson that in Rome it 
was necessary to do as the Romans do, for strong shoulders and 
sharp elbows were essential to find a place on the crowded public 



NO RED TABS 83 

transport. The porters had been warned of their impending 
arrival, and they were shown straight up to Monsignor O'Fla- 
herty's room, where I was waiting for them with the monsignor 
and John May. 

Introductions were scarcely complete before John May busied 
himself in the unexpected task of cooking porridge. "I heard you 
had dystentery," he told Furman, setting before him the steam- 
ing dish and a jug of cream. "This is the best thing in the world 
for it." It was also, Furman told me later, the best porridge he 
ever ate; and I, who had sampled John May's cooking on several 
occasions, could believe it. 

Together the five of us mapped out the division of duties. 
Broadly, we should still rely on the priests to do most of the 
finding of new billets, but Furman, Simpson, and Pollak would 
take over much of the dangerous work of guiding escapers, issuing 
money, and delivering supplies. In her overcrowded little flat 
Mrs Chevalier was building up a sort of cache of food, from 
which came supplies for the Via Firenze and Via Chelini flats. 
This, and food for other 'cells/ had to be collected from her, and 
carted about Rome in suitcases, so I decided that my three new 
assistants should spend the rest of their first day familiarizing 
themselves with the routes and the tram services. After lunch 
with the monsignor, they set off in the company of two Maltese 
priests to call on Mrs Chevalier, with whom they left money and 
requests for further purchases from the various black-market con- 
tacts she had developed, and then went on to visit the flat in Via 
Firenze, and the more luxurious apartment at Via Chelini. 

Pollak was completely at home in the false identity described 
on the papers he had obtained at Sulmona, and the documents 
I had given Furman and Simpson invested them with identities of 
genuine Italians. The cards were based on Naples, which was now 
safely in British hands, and therefore beyond the reach of any 
really thorough check by the Germans, but we had gone to great 
pains, by the use of Italian directories and with the aid of local 
knowledge of some of the priests, to ensure that the names and 
addresses were capable of standing up to any ordinary investiga- 
ton. There were plenty of false identity documents floating about 
Rome at that time, but I imagine ours were among the best. 
Sometimes they were virtually perfect, as in the case of one 
escaper who took over, in its entirety, the identity of an Irishman 



84 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

who had died early in the war, but whose documents, including 
the invaluable Irish passport, had been thoughtfully preserved by 
one of the priests. 

With their new identities and their new suits, Furman, Simp- 
son, and Pollak found they could move about Rome with reason- 
able freedom, and their understanding of Italian gave them con- 
fidence. Not only could they ask for obvious things, but they had 
a comfortable awareness of what people around them were saying. 

The secret agent who does not understand the language of the 
country in which he is operating is like a deaf man trying to cross 
a busy road : the only dangers of which he is aware are those he 
can see. Pollak, with the advantage of latin appearance added to 
linguistic accomplishment, could pass as an Italian even among 
Italians, and the willowy Simpson could certainly count on fool- 
ing most Germans, while John Furman, with reasonable know- 
ledge of both enemy languages, had a system of his own which 
he said could not fail. If he was engaged in conversation by 
Italian Fascists he would pretend to be German, and in the 
presence of Germans he would be a swaggering Italian Fascist. 

The three TDilleting officers,* as they came to be known, went 
into action straight away, and they had been at work for only 
about three days when I received from them, through one of the 
priests, a plaintive SOS pleading for permission to use carrozze 
to convey provisions from Mrs Chevalier's to the flats. They had 
apparently been fighting a losing battle, encumbered with heavy 
suitcases, against the determined tram-travelling populace of 
Rome. Although they would be more conspicuous in an open 
cab, I knew from experience of the risk of detection on a tram, 
so I considered the small extra cost justified. 

As they became accustomed to the work they split up the billets 
among themselves, to avoid duplication and reduce unnecessary 
travelling, and Furman and Simpson, always close friends, dis- 
covered that it was not impossible to enjoy a measure of social 
life. They usually had to meet during the day to sort out details of 
their work, and decided they might as well combine business with 
pleasure by arranging a rendezvous in some pleasant place, where 
they could either eat or drink. 

They lunched at some of the better restaurants, often close to 
German officers or leading Fascists, and found a fashionable bar 
where, apart from other attractions, there was an attendant who 



NO RED TABS 85 

was no lover of Germans. The barman, Felix, who had once 
worked in London, quickly sensed that his new customers were 
engaged on some sort of activity likely to engender official dis- 
approval, although he may have thought no more than that they 
were black-market operators which, after all, was not so far 
from the truth. At all events, he accepted them as friends, and 
could always be relied on to reach up towards one particular 
bottle of little-used liqueur on the high shelf behind him whenever 
danger threatened. This hint enabled Furman and Simpson to 
take their leave with reasonable speed. 

Their social circle did not really expand, however, until they 
were introduced to an Italian film director named Renzo Lucidi, 
and his wife, Adrienne, who had been among Monsignor 
O'Flaherty's staunchest allies from the start. Renzo was by birth 
half Danish and by inclination wholly anti-Fascist, while his wife 
was French, and there was never any doubt about where her 
sympathies lay. They had a son of twelve, and Adrienne had also 
a son of eighteen, born in France by a former marriage, and the 
four of them lived in a pleasant and well-appointed apartment 
When they suggested that all three of the billeting officers should 
take up residence with them I approved, because the Lucidi home 
in Via Scialoia was much closer to Mrs Chevalier's and the two 
fiats, and was also much better placed than suburban lodgings 
for the organization of billets in the city. The billeting officers 
themselves approved, of course. 

Although the Lucidis' flat shared a block with the home of a 
leading Fascist family, it was the accepted meeting-place of many 
of the principal anti-Fascists in Rome, including a number of 
curvaceous young film stars, who brought a new glamour into 
the life of the ex-prisoners-of-war. 

Renzo and Adrienne were keen opera-goers, and Simpson, the 
erstwhile double-bass player, and his companions welcomed with 
joy the suggestion that they should go along as well. In time their 
visits became quite frequent, and Pollak went so far as to intro- 
duce some of the other escapers under his care to the delights of 
the opera. 

One evening, at the head of a long and somewhat restive queue 
at the booking-office, Pollak was questioning the clerk and then 
turning to interpret to the two escapers who were with him, and 
who could not make up their minds which seats to have. As Pollak 



86 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

turned once again to the booking-office he noticed that the man 
standing right beside him was a tall German officer, who, in 
pointed, perfect English, demanded, "Arc you going to be much 
longer?" 

"No," replied Pollak, also in English. "We're leaving now." 
And they did, with alacrity. 

For Simpson and Furman, their first visit to the opera remained 
the most memorable, for they emerged from it with a remarkable 
trophy. They shared a box with Renzo and Adrienne Lucidi, and 
had scarcely taken their places when into the adjoining box 
stalked a heavily decorated German general and what appeared 
to be his entire personal staff. During the first act Furman and 
Simpson noticed that the attention of one of the general's A.D.G.'s, 
a stiff-backed Prussian of early middle-age, strayed constantly 
from the energetically vocal Italians on the stage to the handsome 
profile of Adrienne a yard away. Adrienne, who had outgrown 
youthful prettiness only to replace it with a mature, statuesque 
beauty, softened by the ageless charm which is the most appealing 
feature of women of her race, noticed the German's admiration 
too, and leaned across to borrow his opera-glasses, which he 
readily and gallantly surrendered. 

The two Britons exchanged a wink, and when the interval 
came they chaffed Adrienne. "You've made a conquest," they 
told her. "Why don't you ask him for his autograph ?" 

Adrienne arched her delicate eyebrows, and raised her shoulders 
in an almost imperceptible shrug. "But of course," she replied. 

At the end of the performance she pushed her programme 
across the ledge between the two boxes, and, in French, asked 
her Teutonic admirer if he would sign it. 

"I will do better than that," said the German, beaming with 
flattered pleasure, "I will get the general to autograph it for 
you." 

Furman and Simpson watched, fascinated, as the German 
general scrawled his name across the programme, which the 
AJD.C. handed back to Adrienne with a bow. "Which of you is 
to have it?" she asked them later, and when they tossed up for 
it the memento went to Simpson. The two British officers studied 
the signature with mounting delight: it was that of General 
Maelzer himself the Military Governor of Rome. 

It would have made a perfect postscript to this anecdote if I 



NOREDTABS 87 

had been able to record that the signature was received with 
delirious joy at headquarters and rushed off to the printing-presses 
for the production of hundreds of forged passes for escapers, and, 
indeed, such a story has been circulated since the war, but there is 
no truth in it. In point of fact, I gained some comfort from the 
knowledge that the autograph was available for use, should we 
ever need it, but, as the man responsible for the security of the 
organization, I could not look upon this sort of adventure with 
official approval, much as I was amused. 

The truth was that the organization's documentation service 
was now so good that we did not need to rely on blatant forgeries 
of that sort. Furman, Simpson, and I were in possession of rare 
passes, made out specially for us, and signed by the German 
Minister in Rome himself; and who would want a forgery when 
he was equipped with the real thing? I obtained ours through 
an experiment about which I felt rather guilty, because it was 
the only time I ever really took advantage of the Vatican Secre- 
tariat 

Through the inexhaustible ingenuity of John May and the 
transfer of a little money among minor clerks, documents made 
out in the names which the three of us were using came to be 
inserted into a pile of others being sent from the Secretariat to the 
German Ministry for the issue of passes, mainly for officials who 
had to travel during the hours of the German-imposed curfew. 
The trick worked perfectly. Passes for three British officers were 
made out, signed by the German Minister, imposingly stamped 
with the swastika surmounted by an eagle, and then, by more 
sleight of hand, returned to John May, and eventually to me. I 
never compromised the incalculable value of these three passes 
by attempting to repeat the experiment, but it always gave me 
singular satisfaction to realize that in a city of forgeries each of 
the principal officers of our organization held an unmistakably 
genuine German pass. 

The success was all the more surprising in view of the growing 
signs that the Germans were aware that British escaped prisoners 
were in their midst. Indeed, they could scarcely fail to be aware 
of it, since the editor of a leading Fascist newspaper had printed 
a scathing article about fashionable restaurants in which escaped 
British officers were to be seen brazenly eating expensive meals, 
while the poor of Rome had difficulty in finding enough food. 



88 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

The only result of this, so far as I could see, was that some of the 
best eating-houses in Rome were promptly closed down by order 
of the Military Government, to the chagrin of the German 
officers, who were their principal patrons. 

Security of the organization had become my major concern, 
for apart from the hundreds of escapers in the country, we now 
had men billeted in more than forty different places in Rome 
itself, and it was difficult to plan the continuous fetching and 
carrying of supplies so that there was no regular pattern of visits 
which might attract attention. In the interrogation of new arrivals, 
to which much of my time was devoted, I began to pay par- 
ticular regard to the temperament of the escapers, and earmarked 
those unlikely to endure the frustration of lying low for several 
weeks as priority cases for sending to the country areas, where 
they could expect to move about rather more freely. 

The never-ending growth of the organization presented many 
problems beyond that of security, and the finding of sufficient 
food and other supplies was a constant headache. Provisioning 
arrangements might have broken down altogether, had it not 
been for the ubiquitous John May, who, although confined to the 
Vatican, contrived to maintain contacts all over the city, and 
knew at once when any stock of food or cheap clothing found 
its way to the black market anywhere in Rome. Even when 
supplies were unearthed, delivery remained a problem; the 
rationing system meant that Italian families were unable to ob- 
tain food through the ordinary channels for any escapers in their 
care, so bulky items, including meat and bread, had to be trans- 
ported physically to the individual Cells' as well as to the two 
flats. But fortunately a growing number of the Italian 'padrones' 
established their own black-market contacts, and in these cases 
I was able to send money, which was much simpler to deliver. 

The amount of money I was spending on behalf of H.M. 
Government was beginning to reach impressive proportions. At 
first the British Minister had been able to supply odd thousands 
of lire through normal financial channels, but as the number of 
escapers sky-rocketed, demand outpaced supply, and it took 
strenuous efforts on the part of Sir D'Arcy Osborne to evolve a 
system for the conversion of Foreign Office pound notes in London 
into lire notes in Rome. 

We were not extravagant, paying out only 120 lire a day for 



NO RED TABS 89 

the keep of each prisoner in Rome, and substantially less in the 
country. In purchasing terms 120 lire represented about four 
shillings, and few of the 'padrones' could make anything out of 
that. In the first six weeks up to December 9, 1943, the organiza- 
tion distributed 69,000 lire, but in the next four weeks the million 
mark was topped. I was now collecting from Sir D'Arcy Osborne 
sums of up to 400,000 lire at a time, and I was also extracting, 
though with rather more difficulty, various contributions from the 
American Minister, Mr Harold Tittman, towards the cost of 
maintaining United States servicemen who had entered the 
escape line. In the main these were men who had baled out of 
crippled bomber aircraft. 

I had a shrewd suspicion that in the long run I should be ex- 
pected to account for these sums, and bought a cheap school 
exercise-book. It was the simplest form of ledger, with income on 
one side and outgoings on the other, and I doubt if ever in the 
history of field accountancy were such vast transactions recorded 
in so crude a form. I also asked, wherever possible, for plain and 
not too revealing receipt chits, to relate to the entries in the 
'ledger,' and these were dutifully buried by Captain Byrnes each 
night in the Vatican gardens, where they would be safe even if the 
Germans decided on a raid. 

To make sure that the 'ledger' would be of little value to the 
enemy, each entry consisted of nothing more than a date, a code 
name, and an amount of money. Everybody in the organization 
was given a code name, by which alone they were known for all 
purposes of conversation and communication, and, as a further 
protection, I ruled that the code names of "Mount" (the British 
Minister), and "Till" (the Secretary to the Legation, Mr Hugh 
Montgomery), were never to be committed to paper at all. 

Many of the code names gave a strong due to the individuals. 
Thus, Monsignor O'Flaherty became "Golf," in recognition of 
his passion for the game, which he had frequently played with 
the most modest of handicaps with Count Ciano, Mussolini's 
son-in-law and foreign minister. I was "Patrick," and the three 
military assistants were simply "John," "Bill," and "Joe" an 
arrangement of which they approved heartily. The Irish Father 
Claffey was "Eyerish," dear old Father Thomas Lenan was 
"Uncle Tom," the Dutch Father Ansdmo Musters was "Dutch- 
pa," the Maltese Mrs Chevalier was "Mrs M.," and Brother 



gO THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Robert Pace was "Whitebows," in recognition of the most distinc- 
tive feature of the habit worn by his Order. The Maltese Father 
Borg found his name reversed, and became "Grobb," and the 
name of the Swiss caretaker at the British Embassy, Secundo 
Constantini, was abbreviated to "Sek." Some of the code names 
were chosen with no logical reason, as with Owen Snedden 
("Horace"), Father John Buckley ("Spike"), and the unfortu- 
nate Count Sarsfield Salazar ("Emma"), while others were more 
obvious, as in the case of Father Flanagan ("Fanny"), Father 
Galea ("Sailor"), and, of course, poor Renzo Lucidi, who inevit- 
ably became "Rinso." 

By Christmas we were looking after more than 2000 escapers 
in the country areas and about eighty in Rome, and I decided 
that things looked bright enough to justify a modicum of Christ- 
mas cheer : small sums of extra cash, to enable the men to buy 
additional food and comforts usually cigarettes, which were 
scarce and very expensive and among the men in Rome we 
distributed a few bottles of wine, and such small luxuries as the 
black market could produce. 

My own Christmas began impressively with a midnight service 
in the chapel that occupied most of the ground floor of the college. 
The monsignor had invited me diffidently, for in all the weeks that 
I lived under his care he never once tried to sell religion to me. 
Right at the beginning of our acquaintanceship he had said, "I 
realize you are an Anglican, but you need not be afraid that I am 
going to spend all my time talking to you about the Catholic 
faith. Any time you feel like talking religion, I shall be happy to 
join in, but if you don't I shall never preach at you." He never 
did, but I frequently took advantage of his offer of discussion, 
and learned much from him, and from his tolerance and re- 
straint Religion was not only his vocation but his over-riding 
academic interest, and among his three doctorates were those of 
Divinity and Canon Law. 

He always ate frugally, and Christmas dinner, served by the 
German sisters, who now accepted me with something like affec- 
tion as the Irish Patrick Deny, was no great gastronomic ex- 
perience, but at a time when meat was very scarce, even a slice 
of mutton was most welcome, if hardly festive. Certainly, there 
was nothing sparse about the cheerful goodwill that flowed about 
the monsignor's room throughout that day, and it seemed to me 



NO RED TABS gi 

that visitors were in and out in a never-ending procession. There 
were priests of half a dozen different nationalities, who were all 
helping in the organization's work, diplomats and their families 
from the French, Polish, Jugoslav and other legations, Mrs Kier- 
nan and her two daughters from the Irish Embassy, and a large 
number of unusual characters, who had been in hiding in various 
parts of the college since before my arrival. 

Among these was an Austrian ex-mayor, with whom I had 
struck up a firm friendship. He was anti-Nazi from the earliest 
days, and had fled to Italy when Hitler's troops marched into 
Austria. When Italy went to war at the side of Germany he took 
refuge in the Collegio Teutonicum. From him I received my 
most valuable Christmas present, a gold pencil, which I still 
treasure, and with it a Christmas card on which was a message, 
in which he described me as "the finest English officer I have 
met." I should have been embarrassed, had I not realized that 
he had probably never met any other English officers. However, 
I was moved by his kindness. 

Looking back over the previous few weeks, it seemed to me 
that the Rome Organization was developing well. Two thousand 
escapers and evaders were adequately clothed and fed as part 
of an organized force. They regularly received information and 
instructions from British officers, while their welfare was watched 
by more than twenty priests. 

It might have seemed that the organization was playing no 
really useful part in the Allied war effort, and this point of view 
was certainly widely held and frequently aired among the Com- 
munist organizations with which we were in touch. This over- 
looked three important factors : first, escapers who were recap- 
tured would have been sent to Germany, where camp conditions 
were deteriorating, and where, as it turned out, they would have 
been incarcerated for another soul-destroying year and a half; 
secondly, all the food and other materials consumed by escapers 
were, in fact, enemy resources, and our men were indirectly help- 
ing the Allied war effort by absorbing a good deal of the enemy's 
productive effort; thirdly, our troops would reach Rome long 
before the Allies began to batter on the walls of Hitler's Germany, 
and would find a couple of thousand men, in reasonably good 
physical condition, ready to rejoin our forces. Additionally, a 
proportion of the bill could reasonably be set against the 



92 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

intelligence service it was providing, and the goodwill it was de- 
veloping among thousands of ordinary Italian people. Although 
it was impossible to convince the Communist associates, such 
thoughts as these comforted me as I totted up the staggering 
figures in the schoolbook ledger. 

But any complacency I may have been developing was shaken 
by three unexpected developments which caused concern. The 
first was the decision of the German Military Government to 
change the curfew hour from 11 P.M. to 7 P.M. This, the penalty 
of some not very worthwhile sabotage attempts by the Jugoslavs 
and Italian Communists, meant that helpers who were already 
hard pressed were forced to rearrange the system of visits and 
supply deliveries that we had built up. 

A second, and in some ways more serious, development was 
the closing of the street door through which we literally kept in 
touch with the world outside. The Vatican authorities, possibly 
with the aid of a hint from German military sources, had ap- 
parently become aware of the volume of this traffic, and at a 
single stroke had made it impossible for anyone to reach our 
headquarters without going through some kind of check-point. 

It happened shortly before Joe Pollak was due to call, and he 
did, in fact, arrive to find the way barred. Unaware of what had 
happened, he hammered so persistently on the gate that a Roman 
gendarme walked up, and demanded to know what he was doing. 
"Nothing," replied Joe meekly, and inexplicably the gendarme 
allowed him to walk away. 

John Furman was also due to arrive that morning, but we 
were able to arrange for "Horace" (Father Snedden) to go out and 
intercept him. "Horace" showed him the only remaining way 
of getting into contact with headquarters, through the Porta Santa 
Marta, a gate behind the colonnades on the left of St Peter's, to 
a post of the Swiss Guard, where he had to produce his Italian 
identity card and state who he wished to see. He could not, of 
course, ask for the mythical "Mr Deny," and if he asked for the 
monsignor it was still a matter of chance whether the guard 
would give him a chit to enter or merely put through a message 
on the internal telephone. The immediate effect of this change 
was that we had to cut down visits to a minimum, and rely more 
and more on notes. 

The third ill omen was a report, brought back by Lieutenant 



NO RED TABS 93 

Ristic Cedomir, a Royalist Jugoslav officer, on his return from 
distributing funds in the Arda Valley, where there had originally 
been about 600 Allied escapers, about half of whom made their 
way to Switzerland or warmer parts of Italy. He reported that 
"owing to the imprudence of prisoners rather than unreliable 
Italian inhabitants," the police had arrested eighteen Italians, and 
had offered rewards for information about the source of supply of 
money for escaped prisoners-of-war. 

This meant disaster for the Italian helpers through the lack of 
caution of the men they were helping, and I had to think up 
immediate and drastic steps to lighten security. As I worked 
out my plans, I could not foresee that I was on the threshold of 
a New Year nightmare which threatened to bring down the 
whole organization. Worse was about to befall. 



6 



New Tear Nightmare 



IN underground work in war-time it is generally a mistake to 
abandon the interests of security for the sake of expediency. If I 
had not weakened in my decision to clear the Via Firenze and 
Via Chelini flats of escapers by December 31, the worst part of 
the January disaster would have been averted. But the billeting 
officers, who were the first to express doubts about keeping such 
large numbers of people in one place, had been having great 
difficulty in finding other accommodation, so I gave a ten-day 
postponement for the 'eviction order/ 

Despite the inconvenience of the early curfew and the firmly 
closed street door, there was nothing in the early days of January 
to cause concern about the general situation in Rome, and I was 
concentrating on a tidying up of the organization's finances. 

I was, in fact, constantly worried by the thought that the 
supply of money, the source of which was not known to any of 
my assistants, might suddenly dry up. 

Both Furman and Simpson regularly put forward the request 
that the hidden soldiers, who at home were piling up substantial 
sums in army pay, should be allowed to draw some money for 
extra comforts against their swelling 'credits,' and both also urged 
that officer-escapers should be paid money against 'cheques' on 
their bank accounts. I imagine they considered me unreasonable 
in turning them down flat, but I had no alternative : it was not 
that I had any moral objection to the escapcrs spending their 
own idle money; it was simply that the physical supply of lire did 
not exist. 

The only ways in which additional currency notes could be 
obtained were by stealing them or borrowing them, so I sug- 
gested to Furman and Simpson that they might be able to raise 
a loan privately, repayable after the Allies reached Rome, from 
which they could at least cash officers' cheques. Furman thought 
this a splendid possibility, and, through a friend of Renzo Lucidi, 
began discussions for a sizeable loan. 

The suggestion also arose that Joe Pollak should revisit Sul- 



NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 95 

mona, where all was not as it should be. Iride was still taking 
money to the escapers, but the distribution system was breaking 
down. As Pollak's identity documents were based on Sulmona, 
and Pollak himself was prepared, and even anxious, to go, I 
thought it would be a good thing, but as it turned out he was not 
to have the chance. Neither did Furman finish his negotiations 
with Lucidi's friend. 

On January 6 Furman, Simpson, and Pollak arrived together 
at Porta Santa Marta in a state of considerable concern, and 
were fortunate enough to make contact with Monsignor 
O'Flaherty, who brought them all up to his room. "It looks like 
trouble," said Furman solemnly, as they entered. 

The previous evening, quite by chance, Furman and Renzo 
Lucidi had met in the street a French officer, Henri Payonne, 
who had come into Rome with Iride. They had no more than a 
few minutes because the curfew was almost on them, but Furman 
gave Payonne the telephone number of Lucidi's flat, and told him 
to ring through later, warning him not to reveal the number to 
Iride. He gave this warning because it was obviously inadvisable 
that she should learn where he was staying. 

Early that morning the telephone rang at the flat, and the 
voice that spoke was that of Iride, who somehow or other had 
got hold of the number which Furman had tried to keep from 
her. She asked to speak to "Giuseppe," the name by which Joe 
Pollak had been known at Sulmona, and told him she must see 
him at once. "It is vital," she said. 

Pollak said he would go to her as soon as he could, and, after 
hanging up, discussed the situation with Furman and Simpson, 
but within a few minutes Iride was on the telephone again, plead- 
ing with Pollak to go to her at once. They were now all suspicious 
and worried, and when the telephone rang again for the third 
time Renzo picked it up. There was no one, he said, by the name 
of Giuseppe in the house. 

"There must be! I have just spoken to him," shouted 
Iride. 

"You must be mistaken," said Renzo coolly, and replaced the 
receiver. 

They were in a bedroom, debating the best course to take, 
when the telephone rang yet again. This time the call was taken 
by Adrienne Lucidi. Bursting into the bedroom, she almost 



96 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

screamed at them, "Quick! You must escape! They're coming 
here!" 

The caller had been the Frenchman, Payonne, who in urgent 
tone had told her that they were all in danger, and she must get 
the escapers out of her flat as quickly as possible. Furman, Simp- 
son, and Pollak, immediately connecting this call with the mys- 
terious three from Iride, packed immediately, removed all traces 
of their occupation, and left. They decided that it would be better 
if even Lucidi did not know their whereabouts, and they agreed 
to stay temporarily at the Via Chelini flat. After dumping their 
luggage, they came straight to me with the news. 

I had been aware for some time that Iride was a potential 
danger, for clearly she resented the way that the escapers had 
grown away from her after she had helped them to reach Rome, 
My impression was that she was of the unstable type of character, 
in which a little jealousy could easily turn affection and loyalty 
into indifference and treachery. 

"It looks like a damned trap," I said. "Joe, I don't think we 
dare let you keep that date with Iride." 

"But supposing it really is something vital to our people at 
Sulmona," said Pollak* "We can't just ignore it we might be 
letting them all down. 

"There's another thing," said Pollak slowly. 'That girl knows 
practically everything about the Sulmona organization. And she 
knows all about 'Patrick,' too." 

I agreed that if she started talking there would be a hell of a 
mess, but the risk of letting Pollak walk straight into a trap seemed 
very real, for it looked as though she was already in contact with 
the enemy. 

We talked round and round the problem, and I could see that 
the others, while agreeing that both possibilities were dangerous, 
did not share my view. Finally, I decided to permit Pollak to go 
to Iride, chiefly because that was what he himself wanted to do. 

"It's the only possible way of finding out what all the mystery 
is about," he said, and I had to agree. 

We took such security measures as were possible. Pollak emptied 
his pockets, leaving his documents and personal valuables, in- 
cluding his wrist-watch, and we agreed that if he were not 
back by three o'clock we would assume he had walked into a 
trap. 



NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 97 

Pollak left at noon, and shortly afterwards Bill Simpson went 
out to continue the routine work, leaving the monsignor, John 
Furman, and myself in the growing tenseness of the little room. 
Three o'clock struck, and we looked at each other. Silence, preg- 
nant with foreboding, filled the room until shortly before four 
o'clock, when it was suddenly shattered by the shrill ringing of the 
internal telephone. 

Monsignor O'Flahcrty was up from his chair and across the 
room in a stride, his face alight with expectancy. But, as he 
listened, I could see that this was not the hoped for message, and 
when he put down the receiver he was obviously worried. 

"That was the man at the gate," he told us. "He says there is 
an Italian laddie down there who says he will give his message to 
no one but the man called Patrick. Do you think it might be a trap 
to identify you?" 

"Sounds possible," I agreed. "In any case, there is no point 
in my going down there because I can't speak Italian, and cer- 
tainly you mustn't be mixed up in this. John, it looks like you: 
make sure no one is watching you, and try to find out what you 
can from the young Ite." 

Furman was back in a few minutes with a letter in his hand. 
"It was the son of the proprietor of Iride's boarding-house," he 
said. "All he knew was that he had been told to hand this to 
Patrick, but I persuaded him to give it to me." 

"It's from Iride, but the damn thing's in Italian," I said as I 
opened the note. "Here, John tell us what it's all about." 

Dearest Patrick [Furman read]. Yesterday at midday I was 
arrested, and I got the news that my mother, sister, and my baby, 
as well as Flora and her family and Dino, had also been arrested, 
and were in the hands of the German command. We were be- 
trayed by Captain "Dick," who is not a captain but a simple Red 
Cross orderly who has divulged everything. They are here look- 
ing for Giuseppe [the name by which she knew Pollak], and at all 
costs must take him. I begged Giuseppe to come to me because I 
am very sick, but I am guarded. I think the arrest of Giuseppe will 
be the saving of us all. I won't talk unless threatened that I en- 
danger the life of my baby by not doing so, in which case I shall 
poison myself. I beg you, however, to save the lives of my baby 
and my poor mother. You must not believe if they take Giuseppe 
that it is a betrayal. He is of no interest to them they only want 



98 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

to know who supplies the money, and I repeat they will never 
know from me I prefer death. I am only afraid that Giuseppe 
may talk if he believes himself betrayed. 

IRIDE 

Pollak had, indeed, been betrayed. He was, of course, already 
on his guard when he reached Iride's room at the boarding- 
house, and suddenly he noticed the shape of a man silhouetted 
against the glass panel of a door opposite. In a flash he turned 
on his hed, but two plain-clothes men pounced after him. He 
dashed out of the building, along the street, and into the entrance 
to a big block of flats, only to find himself trapped. Behind the 
main door there was another door, closed and locked, and for 
Pollak there was no possibility of escape from the tiny vestibule 
as the two Gestapo men entered, their revolvers drawn. 

I cursed myself for having permitted Pollak to be recaptured, 
but I was not the only person filled with remorse. When the 
French officer, Payonne, had told Adrienne Lucidi to get the 
escapers out of her flat he had also warned her that under no 
circumstances was Pollak to keep his appointment with Iride. If 
we had been told of that message we should have known for 
certain that the appointment was a trap, but in her panic over 
the first warning Adrienne overlooked the second, and did noth- 
ing about it. When she realized the importance of that small 
omission, and its cost, she broke down completely. 

As soon as we knew that Pollak was in German hands I sent 
agents out in all directions to find out what had happened to 
him. I learned that Pollak had been arrested by men sent from 
Sulmona, and both he and Iride were taken back there that 
night. There were thus no signs that the Germans had yet found 
out anything of importance about the Rome Organization, and 
I was certain that the Italian families who had been arrested at 
Sulmona would not even be aware that it existed. 

On the other hand, there was Iride. Her promise not to talk 
had been pretty thoroughly qualified, and, in any case, I could 
not place much reliance on it after the events of the last few 
hours, so I had to work on the assumption that everything known 
to Iride would in due course become known to the Germans. 

The Lucidis' flat was already in the clear, and the Free French 
had put Payonne out of the way, but there was little I could do 
about my own position, and nothing at all that I could do for 



NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 99 

Pollak. Although, so far as I knew, Iride was not aware of the 
monsignor's part in the organization, it was obvious that if she 
put the Gestapo on to me he would inevitably become involved, 
but he brushed this point aside unconcernedly, and told me I 
worried too much about the unnecessary details. 

I decided that the Via Chelini apartment, which was now 
housing twelve people, must be cleared as soon as possible, and 
devoted most of the day after Pollak's arrest to organizing alterna- 
tive accommodation. New billets were found for Lieutenants 
Furman and Simpson, and it was arranged that they and the other 
occupants of the flat should move out the following day, but be- 
fore any changes could be put into operation I was stopped in 
my trades by a blow from another direction a blow which was 
all the more unexpected in its impact because it was not aimed 
at the Rome Organization at all. 

Like the Western fanner who drills for water, fails to find it, 
but strikes oil, the Gestapo were digging for Italian Communists 
and unearthed escaped prisoners-of-war. In their more or less 
constant struggle against the Communists, whom they blamed 
(not unjustifiably) for much of their discomfiture in Rome, they 
had hatched a typically cunning scheme. 

During the morning of Saturday, January 8, two men in rain- 
coats and trilby hats called on an Italian widow in no way con- 
nected with the organization, whose son, a Communist, was held 
prisoner in the grotesquely named Regina Coeli (Queen of 
Heaven), a great, grim mountain of a prison on the north bank 
of the Tiber, only a few hundred yards from my headquarters 
at the Collegio Teutonicum. They told her that they had just 
been released from the gaol, where they had arranged a plan for 
the escape of her son, who was being constantly tortured, and 
who would pretend to break down and offer to lead the Germans 
to the hide-out of his Communist friends. His friends would, in 
fact, be ready, and in the ambush the Germans would be killed, 
and their prisoner would escape. The widow's part in this in- 
genious scheme was to get all her son's Communist friends to- 
gether and arrange the ambush, and she readily agreed to do so. 

She took her two visitors to the flat of a man named Nebolante, 
a leader of the Italian underground, who questioned them, and, 
satisfied with their replies, invited them to stay for the midday 
meal. 



100 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

There was something grotesque about this meal, for it was 
shared by an Italian resistance leader, two German Gestapo 
agents, and two highly decorated British officers. Nebolante was, 
in fact, 'padrone' to a couple of the most colourful characters on 
the organization's roll Lieutenant "Tug" Wilson, D.S.O., the 
c cloak and dagger 9 saboteur I had met on my first visit to the 
Via Firenze flat, and Captain "Pip" Gardner, V.C., M.C., who 
had been among the prisoners at Chieti. I had arranged for Gard- 
ner to be brought into Rome, where he teamed up with Wilson, 
and eventually they arranged their own billet at the house of 
Nebolante. They went about Rome a good deal, were very much 
at home, and on one occasion found themselves face to face with 
John Furman and Joe Pollak during an interval at the opera. 

Neither Wilson, the past-master at the art of operating behind 
enemy lines, nor the gallant Gardner, had any enthusiasm for the 
idea of lunching with two complete strangers whom they dis- 
trusted, and after the men had gone they took Nebolante to task 
for being so dangerously trusting. He was scoffing at their pessi- 
mism when the strangers returned accompanied by a squad of 
armed and uniformed S.S. men. 

With their host, the two officers were bundled off, fuming, to 
the Regina Coeli, leaving the Gestapo agents in the flat with 
Nebolante's cook. The cook was an old man, not difficult to 
frighten, and by some awful mischance he knew of the existence 
of both our flats, at Via Firenze and Via Chelini. The breach in 
our security went even further, for Nebolante's cook knew also 
the secret signal that had to be given on the doorbells of the flats 
to gain admission. Furman, Simpson, and I were unaware of this, 
and my two lieutenants had agreed to meet at their temporary 
billet in the Via Chelini flat at 2.30 P.M. to collect their baggage. 

Simpson was first to arrive, and found there a disconcerting 
newcomer a man who said he was Adolf Hitler. In fact, he 
was an American Air Force sergeant, who had cracked his head 
when he baled out of a crippled bomber, and in due course had 
been led, as a temporary measure, to the Via Chelini flat. He had 
a form of concussion manifesting itself in a sequence of wild 
delusions. He had an alarming habit of suddenly deciding that 
he was either Hitler or the German air chief, Hermann Goering, 
and plunging into noisy and delirious arguments with the entire 
German General Staff. 



NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 101 

Faced with this problem, somewhat unsympathetically out- 
lined by the laconic Jugoslav, Bruno Buchner, who was more or 
less in charge of the flat, Bill Simpson decided that the sergeant 
would have to be got into a hospital. There were several small 
hospitals run by various religious orders, where such a case could 
be kept without too much risk, for clearly the unfortusate ser- 
geant could not be inflicted on any Italian helpers already facing 
dangers enough. 

Simpson had just left the flat to try and arrange something 
when, in Via Chelini itself, he bumped into Lieutenant John Fur- 
man, trotting nonchalantly to the flat as arranged. 

"Hallo," he said, "what's up?" 

"Plenty," said Simpson, and, after explaining briefly, told 
him, "Go ahead as planned. Ill meet you at the billet as soon as 
I've arranged for some one to shift this character." 

"No," replied Furman. "One of us ought to stay in the flat 
until he is moved, in case there is trouble. I'll wait until you get 
back." 

It was a logical but fateful decision. 

Furman went into the apartment, where our RA.M.C. doctor, 
Captain Macauley, had already arrived, and was very concerned 
about the American. They talked with the sergeant, who was 
lucid for long enough to tell them, "If you want to know, I feel 
lousy," before embarking upon a creditable, if unconscious, 
imitation of the Fiihrer. 

They were all impatient for Simpson's return, but it was fully 
half an hour before the doorbell rang, the proper signal being 
given. Bruno Buchner answered it, and Furman, hearing voices 
in the hall, went out to join him a minute later, expecting to see 
Simpson. Instead he saw at the doorway a small white-haired 
Italian and two rather thin men, who kept their hats on. 

"This is Nebolante's cook," said the Jugoslav, indicating the 
old man. "He says he has bad news." 

Furman, who had never seen the man before and did not like 
the look of his companions, demanded, "Well, what is it ?" 

Before the cook could answer, one of the thin men cut in, 
"Nebolante's flat has been raided, and the Gestapo have got him 
and Gardner and Wilson. We thought we should let you know." 

Furman thanked the two men for calling, but said pointedly 
he could not see why they had bothered to accompany the cook, 



102 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

who could quite easily have delivered the message on his own. 
This remark seemed to annoy the thin men, but as they turned 
away, Furman asked quietly, "Before you go, would you mind 
showing me your identity cards ?" 

For answer the two men swung round, and pulled from their 
pockets, not identity cards, but vicious squat revolvers. Simul- 
taneously, there was a clatter in the passage outside, and half a 
dozen S.S. men, armed with sub-machine-guns and pistols, burst 
into the flat in a roar of shouted German commands. 

They fanned out through the apartment, and within seconds 
the two escapers, Biichner, the Jugoslav, and Herta, the Austrian 
girl, who looked after them, were all lined up against a wall, 
hands high above their heads. 

"So ! We were too clever for you !" boasted one of the sleek 
plain-clothes agents, who seemed to be in command of the opera- 
tion. "Well, we shall have some more of your friends to keep you 
company, besides Wilson and Gardner." 

There was no knowing whether this meant the discovery of 
other billets or even a raid on our headquarters at the Collegio 
Teutonicum, and Furman's first thought was how to get a mes- 
sage of warning to me and also keep Simpson away. There was 
nothing he could do about it himself, but he had noted that the 
prisoners lined up against the wall did not include two soldiers 
who had been billeted in the basement Lance-Corporal T. W. 
Dale and Gunner E. C. Jones. He hoped they had been able to 
slip out through the back windows and get away; and that the 
Germans had arrived by car and left it outside the building, for 
this would alert Simpson to trouble. Desperately anxious to know 
if they had, and hoping vaguely that he might be able to give 
some sort of signal, Furman tried to edge his way towards the 
window, but was roughly thrust back by a pistol in his ribs. 

Meanwhile Simpson hurried back to the flat, strode across the 
vestibule, and gave the secret signal on the doorbell. Furman's 
heart sank as he heard the bell stutter, but there must have been 
a fault in the circuit, for it failed to ring properly. One of the 
S.S. men asked if the bell had rung, and when one of his com- 
panions said he thought it had the soldier walked quite slowly 
across the hall to the door. 

Meanwhile Simpson, his finger still on the bell-push, had caught 
sight of the Italian porter, frantically signalling to him to get out 



NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE I<>3 

of sight. Without stopping to ask questions, he turned, and even 
as the S.S. man was moving to the door, Simpson was racing 
up the main stairs. As the German opened the door, Simpson 
dropped full length along the first-floor landing. Furman, watch- 
ing warily from inside, saw the S.S. man open the door to an 
empty vestibule, and breathed again. Simpson, peering through 
the banisters, saw a uniformed German emerge, look along the 
vestibule, and testily jab the doorbell, which failed to emit any 
sound at all, and realized that a providential electrical fault had 
saved him. 

Undetected, he slipped out of the building by the back way, 
and hurried straight to the Vatican, where he burst in on me, 
white-faced, and reported shortly, cc Via Chelini's fallen." 

I already knew, for Corporal Dale and Gunner Jones had in- 
deed got clean away from the basement as the S.S. burst in above 
them, and had made their way at once to the Swiss Legation, 
where they left the all important message with one of the organiza- 
tion's many friends. This message reached me almost immedi- 
ately, but after Dale and Jones left the legation they walked 
straight into a police check, and were immediately arrested, 

Simpson, of course, could add little to the scanty knowledge 
I already had about the raid, except by confirming that Funnan 
was among those captured. It was obvious that the flat would be 
kept under guard, and that any residents out at the time of the 
raid would be taken as they returned. This is exactly what hap- 
pened to Major D'Arcy Mander, of the Green Howards, who was 
due to spend only one more night at the flat. He returned to find 
himself grabbed by a couple of armed Germans. They bundled 
him into a room by himself, and locked the door but forgot the 
window. Mander promptly climbed out, found a billet for him- 
self, and was never recaptured. 

The immediate task was to find out exactly how many billets 
had fallen, and to warn the occupants of any which survived to 
remain indoors, in readiness for immediate evacuation if neces- 
sary, for I had no way of knowing whether the Via Chelini raid 
was an isolated lucky stroke by the Gestapo or a symptom of the 
breakdown of the entire organization. One by one, with the aid 
of Monsignor O'Flaherty, the priests were contacted, and asked 
to find out what they could about the billets for which they were 
responsible without exposing themselves to risk. 



104 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

In general the billets were with private families, and a visit 
from a priest would not therefore be suspicious. Even if a billet 
had been detected by the Germans, a priest who called would not 
necessarily be compromised. On the other hand, if a large number 
of billets was under observation, and the Gestapo reported that 
they were all visited by priests during one afternoon, the Germans 
could scarcely fail to put two and two together and arrive at 
Monsignor O'Flaherty. Thus, all the priests were warned that 
they should not enter any billet until they had made reasonably 
sure that it was not being watched. 

I was particularly concerned about "Horace" (the New Zea- 
land priest, Father Owen Snedden), for he had the dangerous 
task of checking up on the other flat at Via Firenze, where a 
routine pastoral call would be much more difficult to explain. 
However, as he approached the block, Father Snedden slowed his 
pace, walking contemplatively, and just before he reached the 
main door he saw a silent but expressive warning signal from the 
waiting Italian porter. Without faltering, Father Snedden walked 
slowly on past the block, and, a short distance along Via Firenze, 
was caught up by the porter, who walked beside him, and, in a 
brief, urgent whisper, gave him the news. 

"Bad news, I'm afraid," the priest told me on his return. 

Assuming that the rot had started with Iride, the Sulmona girl 
whose treachery had cost us Pollak, I cursed myself for having 
failed to press ahead earlier with my plans to empty the two flats. 
When I learned that Nebolante's flat had been the first billet to 
fall that day I realized that I was probably blaming Iride un- 
justly, and my second thoughts were confirmed when reports 
came that Nebolante's cook had been seen cruising around Rome 
in a car with Gestapo agents. 

In a way this was reassuring, since the cook's knowledge of 
the organization must be very limited, and I began to relax as, 
one after the other, couriers returned with the information that 
their groups of 'cells' were still secure. 

In particular I was glad to hear that nothing disquieting had 
happened down Mrs Chevalier's way. Nevertheless, the disaster 
could not be minimized. We had lost both 'clearing house' flats 
and one 'cell,' the Germans had captured John Furman, Dr 
Macauley, eleven other escapers, Buchner, Herta, and Nebo- 
lante, the Italian 'padrone.' Two days earlier we had lost Joe 



NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 105 

Pollak, Iride and her f amily, and at least a dozen escapers, and 
probably as many entire families in Sulmona itself. 

The only consolation was that none of those captured knew 
much about the organization except Furman, and none of the 
priests had been compromised. 

For Furman I felt particular concern, because the only hope 
of preserving his life lay in his ability to establish his prisoner-of- 
war status, and in any case his only way of avoiding rough 
handling and, probably, torture was by convincing the Germans 
that he was an ordinary escaped prisoner and not a member of 
some sort of underground organization. Here there would be 
difficulties because, apart from his smart civilian clothes and false 
documents, Furman would probably have coded notes and re- 
ceipts collected that day, and I knew, too, that he was in posses- 
sion of an incriminatingly large sum of money, given to him that 
morning. I confided my fears to Lieutenant Simpson. 

"Thank heaven, John gave me 10,000 lire for my chaps when 
we met this afternoon," he replied, "and I know that he had 
already been round to 'Mrs M.,' and given her 10,000 too, so he 
can't have much left/' 

"Anything up to 15,000 lire," I corrected him. 

Simpson whistled. "Too much !" he said quietly. 

"Far too much," I agreed. "The Germans will never believe 
that an ordinary escaper could have that sort of money. Let's 
hope he managed to dump it." 

"Well, after all, John has got dysentery," said Simpson. "May- 
be he has managed to dump it down a lavatory by now." 

In point of fact, Simpson was not far from the truth : Furman 
got as far as obtaining permission to use the lavatory while still 
at Via Chelini, but the armed guard who accompanied him in- 
sisted on keeping the door wide open, and stood facing him with 
a fixed, disconcerting stare. They were, indeed, still in this un- 
orthodox situation when Simpson pressed the doorbell, but the 
diversion was insufficient to allow Funnan to dispose of all his 
documents. 

Nevertheless, he did get rid of them eventually, setting a weird 
paper trail through Rome, when carted off to the Regina Codi 
prison. Under the cover of a blanket on his lap, he tore all his 
papers into little pieces, and pushed them, at intervals, out through 
the gap between the canvas hood and the side of the van. Bit by 



106 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

bit, his two identity cards, his notebook of coded addresses and 
telephone numbers, a statement of accounts, which he had in- 
tended to deliver to me later in the day, and two or three receipts 
fluttered out into the slipstream. 

His money, however he actually still had 12,000 lire re- 
mained securely in his raincoat pocket. Furman, the master of 
subterfuge and bribery, had already come to the conclusion that 
if he had to go back to prison, money was likely to be useful, but 
he also knew that the sum he carried was too large for comfort, 
and before he was interrogated he managed to stuff most of it 
into a bread roll, which passed German inspection without arous- 
ing suspicion. 

The success of this ruse meant that Rome Organization money 
was providing black-market cigarettes and other minor luxuries 
for the recaptured prisoners in the Regina Coeli prison before I 
even knew where they were. Furman achieved this through a 
'trusty' prisoner, a crafty Italian, who ran many profitable side- 
lines in addition to that of being prison barber, and who must 
have combined serving a sentence with making a fortune. 

It took a day or two to establish where the men had been 
lodged, but as soon as I was able to confirm that at least some of 
them were in the dreaded Regina Coeli, I decided that we ought 
to try to make use of the services of our 'Protecting Power,' to 
find out what was happening. 

Accordingly, I sent a memorandum to the British Minister, 
saying: 

As we know that at least three of the prisoners-of-war recap- 
tured on January 8 were taken to the Regina Coeli, could the 
Swiss Legation send a representative to visit them? The fact that 
these men were taken there presents an excellent opportunity for 
the Swiss to inquire into the conditions of any other British 
prisoners-of-war detained in the Regina Coeli. 

Actually, it is a very delicate situation regarding the other 
Britishers in there, because we do not know what stories they 
have told the prison authorities. Their lives, even, might be en- 
dangered if the Swiss were to interfere directly. For example, 
we know that (a) Captain John Armstrong has been detained 
there for nearly four months; (b) a Britisher named Cunningham 
has been there for a considerable time; (c) there are three 
Britishers in there whom the records show to be Italians. We be- 



NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 107 

lieve that in the case of Cunningham and these three, they were 
dressed in civilian clothes when captured, so the authorities may 
still not know that they are British. If it had been the authorities' 
intention to shoot the three men shown as Italians the sentence 
would, I think, have been carried out before now, but if the 
authorities got the idea that these men were British they might 
be able to charge them with new offences resulting in the death 
penalty. 

In terms of diplomacy I was somewhat naive, for Sir D'Arcy 
Osborne discussed the matter with the Swiss Legation, but then 
informed me that they did not feel they could visit the prisoners 
in the Regina Coeli at once, because the Germans would want to 
know where they got their information about them. They would 
suspect that it came from the British Legation, which would im- 
mediately indicate the existence of an organization assisting 
escapers from within the neutral Vatican. 

However, the Minister told me, one of the Swiss had asked for 
an interview with the German officer in charge of all matters 
connected with prisoners-of-war, and hoped to see him shortly. 
He would ask if there were any British prisoners-of-war detained 
in Rome, and perhaps suggest the Regina Coeli. 

I had to leave it at that, and turned my thoughts to the wel- 
fare of the 2000 escapers still at large. 

As an immediate step, we decided to evacuate all billets known 
to the Italian helpers who were captured, and to reorganize the 
whole system of supply and distribution so that each helper was 
responsible for a small group of three or four 'cells,' and had no 
connexion with any others. The actual groups of 'cells' were known 
only to Monsignor O'Flaherty, Lieutenant Simpson, and me. 

The new system, put into operation at once, placed a very 
heavy burden on Lieutenant Simpson, who was now my only 
military assistant on the operational side, for more and more 
cscapera were coming in all the time. After the New Year raids 
and the Sulmona breakdown, the need to guard against infiltra- 
tion of informers was greater than it had ever been; but greater 
also, alas, was the difficulty of achieving protection. 

At first the home of two Irish priests, always game for any- 
thing, had to be used as a sort of reception centre for newcomers, 
but within a few days we were able to establish a transit camp 
in the basement of a block of flats near the Vatican. The flats 



IO8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

were used by Vatican officials, but the basement was the province 
of a tiny Italian porter, Paolino, who cheerfully gave up accom- 
modation which was none too extensive for his own family, in order 
to provide overnight lodging for up to half a dozen escapers at a 
time. The position was still further improved when we arranged 
for a small shop, close to the Vatican, to be used as an interroga- 
tion centre, where I could meet newcomers. Then came two more 
blows aimed at the nerve centre of the whole organization. 

The first came in the form of an innocuous invitation to Mon- 
signor O'Flaherty to attend a reception at the Hungarian Em- 
bassy, and the monsignor, well aware that the Hungarian Embassy 
was a favourite choice by the Germans for much demi-official 
diplomacy, accepted it with the resignation of a man answering 
a summons. He had not been long at the reception before the 
German Ambassador himself approached him, and said, "I would 
like a word with you, Monsignor, if you don't mind." 

The Ambassador drew the monsignor aside, and quietly but 
firmly told him that the German Military Government of Rome 
was fully aware of what was going on in the way of aid to escaped 
prisoners-of-war. 

"It has gone on too long, and it has got to stop," said the Am- 
bassador. "In future you will stay where you belong. If you leave 
the area of the Vatican you will be arrested on sight. This is a 
final warning," concluded the Ambassador gruffly. "Think care- 
fully about what I have said." 

"Oh, to be sure I will," replied Monsignor O'Flaherty. "Some- 
times." 

He was irrepressible, and told me about the warning with 
evident glee, but almost immediately afterwards he received some 
sort of official caution from the Vatican Secretariat. This, of 
course, he had to treat seriously, and he delegated all his outside 
visits to priests who, so far as was known, were not under sus- 
picion, but he continued to direct their operations as energetic- 
ally as ever from his office. 

The second blow, which affected me directly, was not long 
in arriving. The monsignor entered the office, looking unf amiliarly 
grave. "It's more trouble we're in," he sighed. "This time it's 
marching orders for you, me boy." 

"You mean I have to leave here ?" 

"Aye, that's about the size of it. Would you believe it, now, 



NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE IO9 

the rector has just informed me that he has reason to believe the 
gentleman who is a guest in my room is not a neutral Irishman at 
all, and he would therefore be very much obliged if the gentleman 
would leave at once." 

The rector, who was in charge of the college, was a German, 
but I knew that he was no Nazi, so I guessed that he, too, must 
have received some sort of warning from the Military Govern- 
ment or the Vatican Secretariat. 

With sudden affection, I gazed round the little room which had 
seen so much drama and so much simple conviviality in the last 
few weeks : at the sofa, which had been my bed, at the littered 
desk, which had been our dining-table, at the little radio, which 
had brought the English news to good men of half a dozen races. 
The small room had become home to me in a very real sense, and 
I could not bear the thought of leaving it, quite apart from my 
growing realization that a change of address was bound to bring 
forth a bumper harvest of problems if the work was to continue. 

"I suppose it couldn't last," I said with resignation. "Well, I 
had better set about organizing myself a place in one of the billets 
straight away. Damned nuisance we haven't even got the flats 



now." 



"One moment," said the monsignor solemnly. "It's not quite 
as straightforward as that. I haven't told you everything yet." 

"Not more trouble ?" I asked without optimism. 

"Afraid so, me boy. It seems the Germans now know that 
Patrick Derry is the lad who has been issuing all the help to 
escaped prisoners. If you stay here they may pay you an un- 
welcome call within hours, but if you go to a billet you'll have 
to make up your mind to remain there. They'll pounce as soon 
as you show your face anywhere round here." 

"But that's impossible, Monsignor !" I protested. "How can we 
keep the work going if I can't remain in touch? God knows it's 
tricky enough already, with Furman and Pollak in the bag, and 
you confined to barracks." 

"Things are seldom so black as they look at first sight," said 
the monsignor comfortingly, "but, I agree, it is rather a problem." 

"A problem," I replied thoughtfully, "that merits solution at 
Ministerial level. Monsignor, I'm going to have to ask you to 
lend me your second-best soutane again. . . ." 



7 



Ghost of the Vatican 



THOUGHTFULLY and deliberately, like an assize-court judge 
summing up a peculiarly technical case, the British Minister pin- 
pointed all the arguments for and against my establishment in a 
billet in Rome, and then propounded a surprising solution. 

"You will have to stay inside the Vatican," he announced. 

"You mean I must be interned, sir?" I asked, startled and 
worried. 

"That," he replied, leaning back and fixing me with his slow, 
calm smile, "is just what I do not mean." 

He explained that would never do. Now that the Germans 
knew all about Patrick, they would be watching with consider- 
able interest to see where he turned up, and if they discovered 
a sudden addition to the internees they would not take long to 
put two and two together. He imagined they had already dis- 
covered that Patrick was a British officer of some seniority, and 
suspected that the legation was mixed up in it. They must be kept 
guessing : Patrick must disappear altogether. 

"Well, I have already decided to change my code name to 
Toni/ " I said, "but surely everything you have said only proves 
that I must go out into Rome and find myself a billet ?" 

"On the contrary," he said. 

The force of his subsequent arguments was irresistible, and 
much as I disliked the prospect of cutting myself off from all my 
friends, and from the interest and excitement of the work in 
Rome, I had to admit that the organization of assistance for our 
enormous 'country branch,' representing more than 90 per cent 
of all the escapcrs, could be continued from within the legation, 
whereas it might prove impossible from a secret billet somewhere 
in the city. 

So I 'disappeared/ and became the only Allied serviceman ever 
to live, without being interned, within the Vatican City while 
Rome was in enemy hands. With a twinge of regret, I handed 
my Irish and German documents to Captain Byrnes, and told 
him to bury them, for I wanted to know that they were still avail- 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN 111 

able, in case a German raid on the Vatican forced me to make 
a run for it. Patrick Deny ceased to exist, and I was flattered to 
learn that Monsignor O'Flaherty had some difficulty in account- 
ing for my sudden departure to the German nuns, who had be- 
come quite attached to the tall 'Irish 5 writer. 

Sam Deny also ceased to exist, for no reference to my name 
appeared on paper in the legation or elsewhere in the Vatican. 
I became a man utterly without identity not even a false 
one. I was the ghost of the Vatican : a ghost known only as 
"Toni." 

The Minister, observing my lack of enthusiasm for anonymous 
incarceration, had tried, in his kindly way, to comfort me by 
suggesting that it might now be only a matter of days before the 
Allied advance swept up the long leg of Italy and liberated the 
Eternal City. But from all the information that he himself had 
given me, apart from what I had learned through the wireless, 
I could not be optimistic. With snow reported from places that 
had never seen it, and the prospect of seas of mud as soon as the 
rapid Italian spring began, it was clear that the conditions for a 
winter advance could not be less propitious. In any case, we had 
no reason to believe that the Germans would not stand and fight 
at Rome, allowing the city to be laid waste, and making our own 
position completely untenable. 

Thus, throwing off the monsignor's soutane for the last time, 
I took up residence in the legation, with a feeling of gloom which 
was not dispelled by John May's skill in preparing food, nor even 
by nights in a proper bed. 

Indeed, my frustration was only heightened when, on my first 
full day in the legation, I found myself unable to meet the or- 
ganization's most distinguished 'client. 9 In a crowded four weeks 
there had been no news of the Greek agent, "Mario" (Theodore 
Mdetiou), since he set off northward in mid-December, with in- 
structions to bring back, if possible, one of the senior officers in 
the group he claimed to have contacted at Arezzo, 120 miles 
from Rome. I had not really expected ever to hear of him again, 
but on January 13, while I was glumly establishing myself in my 
new headquarters, he suddenly reappeared in Rome. With him 
were Major-General M. D. Gambier-Parry, M.C., captured 
during the North African campaign, and Mrs Mary Boyd, an 
Englishwoman who had been under partial internment in the 



112 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Arezzo area, but who had placed herself in great danger because 
of the help she had given to Allied escapers. 

The three of them had been travelling since January 9, when 
Mario led them on a five-hour trek on foot to a place called 
Badia Prataglia. There they caught a bus to Bibbiena, and com- 
pleted the journey to Rome, audaciously, by train. The Greeks 
found temporary billets for them, and their arrival was announced 
in a letter brought to the monsignor's office by Mario. 

The bearer of this, who is known to you [wrote General Gam- 
bier-Parry], will tell you of my arrival here this morning, effected 
through his magnificent efforts on my behalf. Is there any chance 
of my getting into the Vatican, either (a) with the knowledge and 
approval of H.M. Ambassador; (b) without it; (c) with it but 
'winked 9 at. I left five brigadiers and three other officers in the 
area I have come from. They have hopes of another plan, which 
may or may not come off. To come to Rome, if our friend can 
arrange it as he did for zne, may be an alternative, and in any case 
three of them would like to come at once, or as soon as it can be 
arranged. Will you discuss it with our mutual friend, and 
send me back word by him also saying what are the possibilities 
of getting them into the Vatican. 

Postscript: Mrs Boyd and I are without money, and if we 
cannot get into the Vatican the question of how we are to live 
will arise very shortly. Have you any funds at your disposal 
from which to help us? I have also got to buy a complete outfit of 
clothes. 

By now I already had a number of officers of my own rank in 
the care of the organization, but the presence of a major-general 
was a new experience, so I called on the British Minister now a 
very simple thing to do and he agreed to investigate the chances 
of getting the general into the Vatican, since he was now the 
senior Allied escaper in Italy. Lieutenant-Generals P. Neame, V.C., 
C.B., D.S.O., and Sir Richard O'Connor, K.C.B., D.S.O., M.G., 
and Air Vice-Marshal O. T. Boyd, C.B., O.B.E., M.C., A.F.C., 
who walked out of their castle prison at the time of the Italian 
Government's collapse, had succeeded in getting out of the 
country. 

While the Minister was making discreet inquiries, I sent 
"Whitebows" (Brother Robert Pace), to the general's temporary 
billet with a letter. 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN 113 

I strongly advise against your friends coming to Rome. Our 
organization has recently been denounced, and seven officers and 
several other ranks and helpers were retaken. We consider the 
country to be far safer. Chances of getting your friends into the 
Vatican are very small. 

I also enclosed 20,000 lire in notes, and told him : 

If you are unable to buy clothes please let me know your re- 
quirements and rough sizes, and I will endeavour to get them. 

But the Greeks, apparently, had good black-market contacts of 
their own, and in his next note the general wrote : 

Many thanks for the 20,000 lire, with which I have been able 
to fit myself out most successfully, with the help of our friends. 

Within a day or two I was able to get a message from the 
general through to his wife, whom he had not seen for five-and-a- 
half years, though because his name was so well-known, I could 
not use what I had to look upon as 'normal channels' channels 
which had still better not be disclosed. For this the general was 
particularly grateful, although his message could not exceed ten 
words. 

Meanwhile I had asked the monsignor if he could arrange a 
billet of more than average security, as I did not want the Ger- 
mans to recapture such a valuable prize as the general. It so hap- 
pened that the monsignor had been keeping a very special billet in 
reserve for just such an emergency, and told me of a secret room 
made, not without foresight, in the home of Signora dio Rienzo, 
in Via Roggero Bonghi. The signora was English by birth, the 
daughter of Lord Strickland's brother. On the fourth floor the 
door of an end room had been walled up, and from inside the 
house there was no indication that the room existed at all; the 
only entrance was through the window, and even that, in turn, 
could be reached only when a plank was put out at night from 
the window of a passage at right angles to the secret room a 
hazardous 'draw-bridge/ forty feet above the ground. 

It was the perfect hiding-place, so we arranged for the general 
to be guided there forthwith. Once I knew that he was safe I 
breathed freely, for now, apart from his host and hostess, nobody 
knew of the general's whereabouts except Monsignor O'Flaherty, 
his guide, and myself. 



114 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

The general wrote : 

The new billet is all that could possibly be desired, and far ex- 
ceeds everything I ever dreamed of when I set out on this ven- 
ture a fortnight ago. My host and hostess are quite charming, and 
spoil me dreadfully. I am revelling in every comfort after what 
was a pretty rough life in the part of the world I have come from, 
and the conditions under which we were still living there; and 
you can perhaps imagine how I enjoyed my first hot bath for 
four-and-a-half months. 

I certainly could, having gone eighteen months without one. 

The secret room [the general continued] is a wonderful hiding- 
place, and while it has its drawback in the way of not being able 
to get out into the air, or take any exercise, I certainly don't feel 
disposed to complain, for in that respect I am probably no worse 
off than yourself and a great many others, and in many ways 
probably better off than anyone. 

I greatly wish that we could meet, and have a good talk, but 
I realize it is impossible at the moment. ... I am still very much 
in the dark as to the exact nature of your organization, and the 
various parts which you and others play in it But I do realize 
that you are doing splendid work, and I only wish that there was 
something I could do myself, instead of sitting here in comfort 
and complete idleness. 

I could scarcely contemplate putting a general to work as a 
billeting officer, even though my sole representative in that field 
was now seriously overburdened, but, on the other hand, he was 
the senior British officer in Rome, so, through "Whitebows," I 
asked him if he would like to take over command of the organiza- 
tion. With characteristic diffidence, he declined, and instead said 
some very flattering things about what the organization had done 
for him; I decided not to point out that he was only in Rome at 
all as the result of a flamboyant Greek venture in which I per- 
sonally had never had any faith, but thereafter we corresponded 
regularly, and I kept him in touch so far as possible with all major 
developments. He wrote long and frequent letters, and showed 
great interest in all who were helping in our work. 

On one occasion he wrote direct to Monsignor O'Flaherty, 
with a suggestion about the future of the brigadiers he had left 
in the north, but almost immediately afterwards sent me a letter 
saying: 



OHOST OF THE VATICAN 115 

Thinking it over, I am not sure that I should not have written 
to you direct instead of to our mutual friend, but I had to write 
to him in any case, and as I have already explained, I am more 
than a little hazy about the chain of command as between your* 
self and others. I am sure, therefore, that you will acquit me of 
any intention of going behind your back. 

In fact, the general's letter brought home to me I think, for 
the first time the strangeness of this organization, in which 
soldiers and priests, diplomats and Communists, noblemen and 
humble working-folk, were all operating in concord with a single 
aim, yet without any clearly defined pyramid of authority. On 
reflection, I could only write to the general : 

Regarding "chain of command," although I have tried to 
keep the show on military lines for the ex-prisoners-of-war 
(on the whole discipline has been good, though one or two of the 
boys have gone a little wild from time to time), we have no real 
chain of command between "Golf' and his party and myself. 
Consequently, "Golf' sent me your letter to read, and he will see 
your letter to me; he sends me daily an account of his activities, 
and I keep him informed of everything I do. 

With so much correspondence floating about, I was beginning 
to feel as though I was engaged, not so much in an escape or- 
ganization, as in some sort of big business enterprise; even with 
my key contact with the outside world, Lieutenant Bill Simpson, 
communication was limited to paper, although, fortunately, it 
never had to pass outside the precincts of the Vatican. Simpson 
could always get to the guardroom at the Porta Santa Marta, 
and usually without much difficulty to the monsignor's office, 
while John May, working from the opposite direction, could 
reach either place by a complex route which took him through 
one of the Pontifical Guards' barrack rooms. During his long 
sojourn in the Vatican he had maintained the friendliest of re- 
lationships with the Swiss Guards, and his persuasive charm even 
succeeded in inducing them to part with their boots, when he 
was unable to obtain supplies for escapers from other sources. 

How much footwear John May himself wore out in the service 
of our organization I cannot guess, but he seemed to be almost 
constantly ferrying messages between Monsignor O'Flahcrty, the 
visiting Lieutenant Simpson, and me. In one respect this cumber- 
some system had an advantage. 



Il6 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

One of the weaker links in our security was now strengthened 
because Simpson read, memorized, and then destroyed all written 
instructions from me before he left the Vatican, and did not write 
any reports to me until he reached the guardroom. 

Simpson was spending his whole time on the organization of 
billets and the distribution of money and supplies, always keeping 
room available for new arrivals in Rome, but he too must have 
felt that he had become involved in big business, for he was 
saddled with the loan negotiations which Lieutenant Furman 
had initiated. 

In his first written report Simpson enclosed cheques made out 
by four hopeful officers, and asked, "Could you cash them? If 
you can't they'll kill me." The officers all knew that cheques were 
being paid each month into their idle bank accounts at home, 
while the other ranks knew that they were piling up "credits." 
I realized as well as anybody that freedom to spend just a little 
of their involuntary savings would have made a great difference 
to their rather bleak lives, but that did not alter the inescapable 
fact that I just did not possess the funds. Indeed, I would have 
been as glad as any officer to be able to cash my own cheques. I 
had no alternative to telling Simpson that the money I sent him 
was strictly and solely for the essential maintenance of escapers, 
albeit at subsistence level. But I pointed out that there were 
apparently sufficient officers asking to cash cheques to justify the 
raising of a private loan of lire, as John Furman had planned. 
So far as the other ranks were concerned, similar facilities could 
not be provided, since the War Office payments were not normally 
made into bank accounts, but I authorized the payment of twenty 
lire a day for extra comforts to each man with the exception of 
those staying with the bountiful Mrs Chevalier. 

Simpson picked up the underground loan negotiations where 
Furman had suddenly left off, and soon reported that he had 
been able to arrange an advance of lire at "a goodish rate," if I 
and a couple of other officers would sign an agreement for the 
repayment. I agreed, and Simpson drew up a simple agreement 
in Italian to refund the money in pounds sterling immediately 
after the occupation of Rome by the Allies or the end of the war, 
whichever was the sooner. 

A week later Simpson reported that he had been able to col- 
lect 100,000 lire at the rate of 650 to the pound, which struck me 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN 

as a noble effort, since the normal rate was about 450. "Not bad, 
eh?" asked Bill, with some jubilation, reporting that he had given 
a temporary receipt, and enclosing a final agreement for signa- 
ture. So I signed, hoping for the best, and supporting signatures 
were added by Major Fane-Harvey and Simpson himself. In the 
middle of a war Simpson had, in fact, succeeded in pulling off a 
financial coup. He had converted 154 pounds worth of British 
bank credit into enemy currency. He encashed the officers' 
cheques at the rate of 525 lire to the pound, and gave the profit 
of 3750 lire to the Italian who had acted as go-between in arrang- 
ing the loan on such favourable terms. - 

Now that the officers had a little money of their own, and the 
other cscapers were receiving a small personal allowance, it 
seemed to me that most of the difficulties of their confinement 
in Rome were overcome, but I could not help wondering how 
many laws I had broken in authorizing this unique transaction. In 
a letter to General Gambler-Parry I commented : 

There are a few small points for the future like an odd 100,000 
lire borrowed on the promise of 154 sterling immediately after 
the liberation of Rome. Although I hold officers' cheques on Cox 
and King's for the full 154, I cannot help doubting if the field 
cashier will cash them for me. And will snags crop up like "trading 
with the enemy," etc.? The point was that we had to have cash, 
and I didn't much care how we obtained it; now that we have 
the cash, I don't feel inclined to ask the good persons who lent 
me the money to accept practically worthless lire back. Still, all 
this will wait. 

Even with 'the firm's money/ I was meeting continuous prob- 
lems, a good many of which seemed to revolve around Mrs Cheva- 
lier, who by nature was generous rather than provident. For 
Simpson, "Mrs M." was a new experience. The responsibility of 
paying for the five escapers billeted in her crowded flat now 
rested with him, and at the end of his first survey, after the Janu- 
ary disaster, he reported to me, "She is quite content to carry 
on as before with her family of boys, and I think it is O.K. too. 
She has to buy a stock of potatoes and would like some more 
money." I could not help smiling; I had already spent a good 
deal of time curbing Furman's enthusiasm for pouring Govern- 
ment funds into the gallant widow's household, and now, ap- 
parently, I had to go to work all over again for Simpson's benefit, 



Il8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

for, if I did not tighten the rein, her escapers would end up the 
five best-fed men in Rome. 
To Bill I wrote: 

This lady has done excellent work all the time. However, as 
John possibly told you, she is inclined to spend too much money, 
and feed her boys too well; great tact is required on this subject, 
but from time to time we tell her she is spending too much, and 
should cut out the eggs, etc. The great point is that if "Mrs 
M.'s" boys spend more than 100 lire per day allowance, other 
chaps have to go short (at least that is the way we put it to 
"MrsM"). 

By mid-January Italy was well in the grip of its most severe 
winter for many years, which meant both that more and more 
escapers made their way to Rome from exposed hiding-places in 
the country, and that the position at the front, in the south, was 
more firmly static than ever. I had to face the fact that for the 
time being the organization would have to cope with an increas- 
ing number of new arrivals without hope of a compensat- 
ing outflow of departures, and Simpson and the priests spent most 
of their time finding new billets, although some of these, in Simp- 
son's words, were "not very bright." 

It had always been my practice to provide money, clothes, and 
whatever other facilities were possible for any escaper who wanted 
to make his way south to the lines, and I continued to do so when 
requests were made, though without optimism. 

When the United States Charg* d'Aff aires, Mr Harold Titt- 
man, asked me for a route to the lines for some American escapers 
in the care of the organization, I had to reply : 

I regret I am unable to give a route down to the lines, as ex* 
prisoners who have recently been dispatched on our recommended 
route have all returned. They state : (a) that it is practically im- 
possible to obtain food when some distance from the lines; (b) that 
snow on the mountain slopes makes going very slow; (c) that they 
have seen several British ex-prisoners-of-war, especially Indians, 
dead on the mountains, apparently having died of exposure and/or 
hunger. While I realize that it is the duty of all ex-prisoners-of- 
war to try and rejoin our forces at the earliest possible moment, 
I cannot help but feel it is exceedingly unwise to attempt to get 
through to the lines now. 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN Iig 

The blocking of the escape line to the south added to the 
difficulty of finding sufficient accommodation in Rome for 
escapers, and there were many minor complications : as on the 
occasion when Pasqualino Perfetti, the pseudo-priest, who had 
been my first contact in Rome, brought in from the country two 
South African soldiers who happened to be ebony-black Negroes. 
There was, of course, no colour bar in the organization, and, in- 
deed, it was not difficult to find Italian 'padrones' to look after the 
South Africans, but even the least racial-conscious observer had 
to admit that they looked conspicuous on the streets of Rome, so 
we had to order them to remain permanently under cover, in 
their billets. 

There was also a steady stream of Arabs at the Santa Marta, 
all claiming to have fought for the Allies in North Africa, and all 
demanding (good Moslems that they were) the protection of the 
Vatican. John May used to go down to the gate and deal with 
them, but in almost all cases their loyalty was suspect, and we 
never took them into the care of the organization in the ordinary 
way. On the other hand, we could not afford to take chances, so 
John May gave them money, and instructions to return to the 
Porta Santa Marta if they needed more, and eventually we or- 
ganized a system of fixed allowances, which the Arabs collected 
at the gate once a month. 

Then there was the problem of the Indians, which was rather 
more difficult. I knew as well as anybody of the gallantry and 
loyalty of the units which had fought with us in Africa, but I also 
knew that the Germans had played on the political sensitivity of 
the Indians they captured, telling them that British Imperialism 
had been keeping them down for centuries, and urging them to 
join an Indian regiment to fight the British, and so as the Ger- 
mans put it strike the first blow for the independence of their 
country. 

Tragically, some Indians fell for this line, putting their sweat 
and skill at the disposal of the wrong side, and I always had the 
fear that the loyalty of others was weakened by the persuasive 
Nazi propaganda. Often with regret, I had to treat requests for 
help from Indians with a certain amount of caution, but my best 
defence lay in an ever-growing intelligence system, and informa- 
tion elicited during the interrogation of new arrivab from various 
camps gradually enabled us to build up a fairly comprehensive 



120 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

knowledge, fully recorded and indexed, of the activities of the 
more dangerous characters. 

Thus, when one particular Indian came to us for help I was 
able within minutes to identify him as a renegade who had gone 
over wholly to the other side, and who therefore needed to be 
kept under surveillance until he could be handed over to the 
British authorities. One of the group leaders, Lieutenant Panwar, 
a King's Commission Indian, volunteered to "befriend" the turn- 
coat, take charge of him, and keep him out of trouble until the 
liberation, which, in fact, he achieved with complete success. Un- 
fortunately, the renegade later escaped from his prison cell at 
Naples. 

But we had friends, too, and one averted a disaster for Mrs 
Chevalier. It was only ten minutes before curfew one night, when 
Mrs Chevalier answered a ring at the door to find there a lame 
Italian youth, whom she knew vaguely by sight. He whispered 
urgently, "You are hiding some British prisoners. The Germans 
are coming to raid you after curfew to-night." 

The youth told her he would take the escapers to his home if 
they would get ready at once. 

Mrs Chevalier, torn between suspicion and anxiety, asked him 
to wait, and told her lodgers' of the message. They came, rightly, 
to the conclusion that it was better for them to take the chance 
of walking into a trap than to risk death for Mrs Chevalier and 
her family. They scrambled their belongings together, and got 
out of the flat with four minutes to spare before curfew, leaving 
Mrs Chevalier, her son, and six daughters to cram their mattresses 
into cupboards, and remove all other obvious traces of their 
occupation. 

Almost exactly on the hour of curfew the S.S. pounded on the 
door with the vicious urgency characteristic of their terrorism: 
they never knocked on a door, but always kicked it with their 
jack-boots or clouted it with carbine-butts. Mrs Chevalier slipped 
back the latch, and the German commander strode in, taking in 
at a glance the middle-aged woman, the youth, and the six girls. 

"Papers," he demanded, and flicked quickly through their 
identity cards. 

"Who else is here?" he asked, but without much conviction. 
Standing before him were eight Italians, all with papers perfectly 
in order, and it was not conceivable that there could be any 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN 121 

further occupants of such a tiny flat. He made only a cursory 
inspection of the apartment, failing to find any of Mrs Chevalier's 
vast surplus of mattresses and foodstuffs, and decided that the 
denunciation had been a false one. He apologized for the in- 
trusion, and asked quite courteously if she had seen any strangers 
coming and going in the neighbourhood. 

Mrs Chevalier had already come to the conclusion that the 
denunciation had come from the family next door, whom she 
knew to be of Fascist sympathies, so she replied innocently, "There 
have been some strangers coming to this building but they all 
went next door." 

The German commander thanked her, and ordered his men to 
the adjoining flat, and for the next half hour Mrs Chevalier de- 
rived singular satisfaction from the noise of crashing furniture and 
hysterical protests, which filtered through the wall. In that half- 
hour the S.S. men, who had spent only a few minutes with her, 
and caused little trouble, practically wrecked the adjoining apart- 
ment, wrenching open doors, stripping beds, up-turning drawers, 
emptying cupboards, and puncturing upholstery. 

The five escapers who had been at the flat were housed in 
temporary billets, but when Lieutenant Simpson called on Mrs 
Chevalier the day after the raid he found her very concerned 
about them, though not in the least daunted by her own unnerv- 
ing experience. "She is very worried about her boys," Simpson 
confided to me. "She wants them back, but I say no. She is will- 
ing to help us in any other way possible." 

But within four days Mrs Chevalier had managed to get in 
touch with her beloved "boys" again, and had talked Simpson 
into allowing them to become reunited in the home of a friend 
of hers. 

A day or so later Simpson was given a sharp reminder that he 
should be constantly on his guard. He was now back at the com- 
fortable flat of Renzo and Adrienne Lucidi, where his new fellow- 
lodger was a Polish saboteur known as Rafaelo, and they were 
all in bed when the front door shook under the unmistakable 
hammering of the S.S. 

In the moments before Renzo opened the door Rafaelo's little 
bag of explosives was hidden, the Pole was pushed into bed with 
Peppina, the housemaid, and told to pretend to be her lover, and 
Bill was told to look stupid, and to do his best with the r61e of the 



122 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Lucidis' half-witted nephew. It was a plot as fantastic as any 
ever directed by Renzo Lucidi in a film. 

The jack-booted Germans accepted the Lucidis' explanation 
without question and showed no further interest in the English 
officer and the Polish saboteur, but, to every one's horror, they 
arrested Renzo's eighteen-year-old stepson, Gerard. As soon as 
curfew was lifted next morning, Simpson and Raf aelo changed 
their billets, while Renzo Lucidi went to the Via Tasso head- 
quarters of the Gestapo to find out what had happened to his 
stepson. He found out nothing and that evening the Germans 
returned to the flat, and arrested Renzo. They also asked about 
the unbalanced nephew, but Adrienne said he had gone out for 
the day, and she did not know where he was. 

That was true enough : Simpson had come post haste to the 
Vatican to report to me, and had gone away with firm orders to 
post himself to another billet forthwith, leaving me to do what 
I could to assist Renzo Lucidi and his stepson. I knew that the 
boy, Gerard, Adrienne's son by her former marriage, was French 
by birth, so I immediately got in touch with my friend De Vial, 
at the French Legation. 

He persuaded the Vichy French Minister to take up the matter 
with the German authorities, and within five days Renzo and 
Gerard were released, little the worse for wear, and apparently 
without having been subjected to extreme interrogation. From 
De Vial I gathered that die only reason for the Germans taking 
the boy had been that his name appeared in a list of students' 
addresses found in the notebook of a professor arrested on sus- 
picion of subversion, and they had nothing on his stepfather be- 
yond the accurate belief that he was a leader of socialist thought. 

Lieutenant Simpson made his own inquiries into the cause of 
the raid, and in due course confirmed that it was only a political 
business, and nothing to do with us. 

Now that I was taking none of the personal risk myself, I was 
increasingly conscious of the danger to which those doing the 
operational work hourly exposed themselves, and there were con- 
stant reminders that the risk was very real. On the day that we 
so nearly lost Lieutenant Simpson the organization did, in fact, 
lose another valuable helper, a gallant little Italian woman, whose 
arrest was a direct result of her work for escapers. 

To the organization she was just "Midwife." To the people 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN 123 

of the scattered villages in a rural area a few miles north of Rome, 
she was Concetta Piazza, the district nurse, who dressed their bad 
legs, took them medicine when they were ill, and brought their 
babies into the world a busy little body, who fulfilled all the 
duties of an English district nurse as well as many of those of 
the general practitioner. To twenty British ex-prisoners-of-war, 
hidden in odd corners of farms and villages, she was the cheerful 
courier who, regularly as clockwork, brought them money and 
supplies. 

When Concetta Piazza was arrested she had just completed her 
long round of visits, and that was her one stroke of luck : she had 
none of the incriminating money or supplies left. She was taken 
off to Rome, and bundled into the notorious Regina Coeli gaol, 
where she was charged with giving aid to Allied escapers and 
evaders. 

"Midwife" knew she had been denounced, which probably 
meant that the Germans had little real evidence against her, and 
no knowledge of the whereabouts of her ex-prisoners. She also 
knew that she was facing a capital charge, but she pinned her 
faith on her record as a nurse who had given medical attention 
to all in need, including Germans, and was convinced that if the 
highest authorities were aware that a nurse such as herself was 
being kept away from her vital work because of a mere 'un- 
founded' suspicion, she would be immediately released. 

On prison toilet-paper she wrote a long letter to Field-Marshal 
von Kesselring, setting out all she had done in the course of her 
vocation, and emphasizing the danger of epidemic over part of 
the countryside close to Rome, in her absence. She knew, of 
course, that such an epistle would never have got beyond the 
stark walls of the Regina Coeli if she had tried to have it de- 
livered through official channels. Indeed, she would probably 
have been punished for writing it, since any form of communica- 
tion was forbidden. But "Midwife" also knew that in the Vatican 
were those who would help her even in the apparently hopeless 
task of laying a petition before the field-marshal himself. She 
therefore persuaded a prisoner being released to smuggle her letter 
out of gaol. It reached me, and her outline of her work seemed 
to provide as good a case as any for her release, for I knew that 
the hygiene-conscious Germans, aware of the general shortage 
of medical attention in the provinces, and also of the astonishingly 



124 TH ROME ESCAPE LINE 

primitive nature of rural sanitation, were in constant fear of the 
outbreak of some sort of epidemic. 

It therefore remained only to retype the letter on paper more 
fitted for the eyes of a fastidious field-marshal, and arrange its 
delivery. This would have to be through one of the neutral 
Ministries, but I had to proceed with caution, for the Swiss 
Legation was already suspected of going beyond strict diplomatic 
limits for the British, and at the French Ministry De Val had 
shot his bolt for the time being by persuading the pro-German 
Minister to intercede for Adrienne Lucidi's son. On the other 
hand, there was still the Irish Legation, where Dr Kiernan reigned 
with such strict and unimpeachable neutrality that even the 
naturally suspicious Germans could scarcely have harboured any 
doubts about him. Blon Kiernan therefore arranged for the letter 
to be placed before her father, and in this way the most strictly 
neutral man in Rome came to pass a petition, typed at the head- 
quarters of the British underground organization, to the field- 
marshal; furthermore, he marked it, "For the personal attention 
of Field-Marshal von Kesselring." 

A day or two later, without a word of explanation, Concetta 
Piazza, the little nurse, was released. 

This result was gratifying, for the loss of agents and helpers 
was becoming all too frequent. Often Italian helpers and 
Allied escapers alike were picked up simply because they 
happened to be in the wrong place when the Germans were 
rounding up men for .forced labour almost a daily occurrence. 
Occasionally the loss of an agent had an extra poignancy, such 
as when one messenger, a Jugoslav returning from delivering 
money to a group at Viterbo, was killed by machine-gun fire from 
a ground-strafing British fighter aircraft. 

January was a black month, but as disaster followed upon 
disaster, there came a new beacon of hope Anzio. After months 
of deadlock on the Cassino line, the Allies took a sudden leap up 
Italy by a seaborne invasion at Anzio, on the Tyrrhenian coast, 
not much more than twenty-five miles south of Rome, and estab- 
lished a firm bridgehead on January 21, although the B.B.C. news 
broadcasts did not mention it until the next day, and the German- 
controlled Rome Radio ignored it altogether. 

Rumours reached me within an hour or two of the landings, 
and later I was able to see for myself, from the high roof of the 




THE AUTHOR BEFORE HE DESERT CAPTURE 




ST PETER'S SQUARE, ROME 

It was here the author first met Monsignor O 'Flaherty The large building on 
the left is the Collegio Teutonicum 




SNAPSHOT OF MONSIGNOR HUGH O'FLAHERTY IN ROME 
(1958) 




THE VATICAN GARDENS 

The daily records and receipts of the Rome Organization were buned nightly in 
>ealed tins. 





LIEUTENANT JOHN FURMAN 

He is seen here after his promotion to Captain following the liberation of Rome. 




LIEUTENANT FURMAN'S NOTE FROM THE REGINA COELI PRISON 

It measured approximately two and a half by four inches and bore some two 
hundred words, telling the story of his capture. 



authorised to 



curfe^r* "/ear 
Dlain do 
and ourry 

o? vllianc In 7 
or other 

roqulre^^ ' 




THE AUTHOR'S BRITISH MILITARY POLICE PASS 




THE MEDALLION PRESENTEB TO "raro AUTHOR BY 

POPE PlUS XII TO COMMEMORATE HIS AUDIENCE 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN 125 

hospice building, the flashes of battle on the southern horizon. 
Overnight I was placed in a quandary, for the whole underground 
organization, which we had come to look upon as operating deep 
in enemy territory, was now only a score of miles from the front 
line. But everything depended on the reaction of the Germans. 
If they intended to defend Rome there would be little hope of 
maintaining the organization, quite apart from the fact that the 
neutrality of the Vatican would probably be the first casualty, but 
if they intended to withdraw to the north my task was clearly to 
maintain the organization intact, and keep the escapers free until 
the Allies swept into Rome. I was therefore faced with the alterna- 
tive of ordering every man to make the best arrangements he 
could to link up with the Allies, or telling everybody to sit tight 
until further notice. 

My own view was that the Allies would not attempt to storm 
Rome, for the capture of Rome, while good propaganda, was of 
negligible military importance compared with relieving the pres- 
sure on the Cassino line, and perhaps cutting off the German 
forces holding out there. But the decision was too important to be 
based on my own forecast of military tactics; what I wanted was 
knowledge of the German reaction, and the only way to get that 
was from the Germans themselves. 

Blon Kiernan, the Irish Minister's daughter, was on good terms 
with the Bismarck family, and readily agreed to call for tea with 
Prince Bismarck, first secretary at the German Embassy to the 
Holy See. During tea they chatted casually, and by the time she 
returned to me, Blon was able to confirm that the Germans con- 
sidered they would have to withdraw northward. 

The main danger was that the escapers, learning of the 
proximity of the Allies, would act prematurely, and get recaptured 
at a time when they would be more likely to be shot out of hand 
than bundled off to distant prison camps. A few small groups 
south of Rome, who were virtually within sight of the battle, 
made their own way to the line, and were able to join the Allies 
without much difficulty during the first twenty-four hours, when 
the Germans were still off balance. Indeed, in that period I could 
easily have evacuated all the escapers in and south of Rome, my- 
self included, but that would have meant abandoning the hun- 
dreds of others north of the city, at the time when it was most 
necessary for them to remain an organized unit. In any case, 



126 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

I presumed that my freedom was being delayed for only a day or 
two. 

To Lieutenant Simpson I rushed the order : 

Tell all that they are to remain in their billets after the occupa- 
tion until they receive orders. 

In the stress of the moment I had not said quite what I in- 
tended to say, but Simpson, with admirable discipline, circu- 
lated the order to other agents before he permitted himself to 
observe : 

I have noted your remarks about the boys staying in billets 
when the time comes, and have passed the order on. I wonder 
if they will, however. 

I did not mean this quite literally [I wrote back hastily]. But 
I do not want the boys dashing all over the place so that we get 
complaints, and then orders for us all to be concentrated in some 
camp. What I mean is that I want the boys to continue to live in 
their billets, as opposed to dashing off to live in brothels, etc. 

Even Lieutenant Furman and the other prisoners in the Regina 
Coeli were aware that the war in Italy had taken a dramatic 
turn, for two days after the landings all their regular guards were 
withdrawn, and battered front-line troops, obviously resting from 
battle, were put in their place. I knew all this because I had at 
last heard from Furman. On a flimsy piece of paper, measuring 
only two and a half inches by four, he had written two hundred 
words outlining the story of his capture, warning that one of the 
priests was under suspicion, and listing the names of escapers he 
knew to be in the prison. The tiny epistle, folded over and over and 
placed in a capsule, had been smuggled out of the gaol, secreted 
on the body of an Italian, who went in periodically to shave the 
prisoners because the Germans thought it was necessary for 
hygiene, and because the men were not allowed their own razors. 

Addressed "Dear Toni," and dated January 23, the letter read: 

We were taken by the S.S. at Via C. on the 8th Jan. They had 
already grabbed Tug and Pip and knew all about Via F. We 
were taken straight to the Regina G. where we still are. None of 
us has been interrogated, and we don't know what they intend 
to do with us. We are in different cells, and liaison is difficult, 
but I learned from Tug that Padre B. is known to them. They 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN 127 

got into Via G. with the assistance of Tug's cook, who brought 
them along. To-day all our guards have been changed, and 
rumours are rife. I hope the most optimistic ones are true. What 
is certain is that there is small chance of escape from here, but 
if they try to take us away well, "chi la sa." Officers here are 
Wilson, Gardner, Macauley, Stewart, Selikman, Kane-Berman, 
Furman, O.R. Billet, Knox-Davies, Gibb, Churchill, Hands and 
Eaton (U.S.A.). In addition I have seen two coloured troops and 
a Pole. Also brought in with us were Herta and Bruno. Since I 
arrived I have seen and heard nothing of Macauley and Bruno, 
nor have I heard or seen Joe. If 1 don't get back please see my 
wife, and give her my love. Best luck, 

JOHN 

Two days later, at half-past eight in the morning, Funnan 
wrote another letter, which reached me by the same method. 

Dear Toni [he said], I have just had notice that all British 
prisoners are leaving here within the next two or three hours. 
It is the most damnable luck to have missed the bus by just over 
two weeks, but who knows perhaps I shall see you in Rome yet. 
In any event, I know you will see my wife and Diana when you 
get back. Would you also ask Bill to remember me to all our 
friends here who have been so kind to me? And would you greet 
our Irish golfing friend for me, and also John, who made such an 
excellent dish of porridge not so many days ago. I still hope to 
see you all, but, as you know, the opportunity may just not arise, 
or it may end in a "Jock Short." In the event of the latter, I 
would like you to know that I had a balance of 4000 lire at Chieti, 
which should be worth about 50. But that is, of course, taking 
the gloomiest of views. I have already sent you the names of the 
people here all men from Via F. and Via C. except Tug and 
Pip. I will sign off now, with the hope that you have an unevent- 
ful voyage back to England, and that the work you have done 
here is duly rewarded. My very best wishes, 

JOHN 

I could not imagine that anyone else in such circumstances 
would have betrayed so little self-pity, but there was still no doubt 
that in a month of many letters this was the saddest of all; it read 
far too much like a last will and testament for my liking. 

"What might a 'Jock Short* be?" asked the monsignor, when I 
showed him the letter. 

"It was the name of one of our chaps at Sulmona," I explained. 



128 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

"He was shot down when he tried to make a bolt for it at the rail- 
way-station." 

"I see," said the monsignor slowly. "And do you think John 
could be after doing the same sort of thing?" 

"No no, not quite. He's got too much initiative to commit 

suicide. But I'm sure of one thing, Monsignor : if there's the ghost 
of a chance of escape he will jump at it." 

I was depressed by the news that our men in the Regina Coeli, 
within reach of liberation, were being sent north to the prison 
camps in Germany at least, we prayed that was the correct 
interpretation of the transfer; the alternative was that they were 
being taken out to be shot. I was also depressed by the general 
situation around me. Furman's reference to missing the bus by a 
fortnight made it clear that he was still under the impression that 
the Allied occupation of Rome was imminent, but I was no longer 
so sanguine. 

After the elation of the first day or two, it rapidly became 
apparent that Prince Bismarck had been too pessimistic about the 
outcome of the Anzio landings, and that I, consequently, had 
been too optimistic. The Germans, rather to their own surprise, 
had succeeded in containing the bridgehead, and they were now 
even talking confidently about "throwing the Allies back into the 
sea." I did not believe that this was likely, but I could have kicked 
myself for assuming a German withdrawal from Rome, because 
I now knew that I could have evacuated dozens of escapers safely 
from the city and its environs during the confusion of the first 
twenty-four hours. 

So far from withdrawing from Rome, the Germans, in their 
new confidence about containing the Anzio bridgehead, were 
turning the Eternal City into a sort of front-line base. Divisions 
from all over northern Italy were converging upon it, and the 
whole place was alive with grey-uniformed troops. Each day 
brought added danger for Lieutenant Simpson and the other 
agents whenever they ventured on the streets, every night the 
curfew was more and more strictly enforced, and troo concen- 
trations made it difficult and, in some cases, impossible for us to 
maintain the regular flow of supplies to groups in the country. 

On the other hand, all this activity under our noses provided 
more opportunities than ever before for the information service 
which had been built up on the military side, and we were able to 



GHOST OF THE VATICAN I2Q 

keep useful reports flowing out of Rome in a fairly steady stream. 
These included regular information about German reactions at top 
level, for Blon Kiernan was taking tea regularly with Prince Bis- 
marck, and the knowledge was useful, because the Germans did 
not subsequently about-turn their reactions as violently as they 
had in the first two days of the battle. 

From the growing information service, we drew the consolation 
of doing something active again for the war effort, but as January 
slipped away, and the red line on my calendar scored through a 
week, and then a fortnight of February, with no hint of an advance 
from either Anzio or Cassino, I realized that the Rome Organiza- 
tion would have to be kept intact for an indefinite period. Fortu- 
nately, there was no clairvoyant around, for I would have learned 
that although the Allied guns were barely a score of miles away, 
the Rome Organization was still only half-way through its 
chequered life. 



8 



Homing Pigeon and Caged Lion 



BEAMING all over his benign face, almost bouncing with ex- 
citement, and obviously bubbling over with delight, Monsignor 
O'Flahcrty burst into my room, thrust a scrap of paper towards 
me, and commanded, "Just read that, me boy I" 

It was February 14, but I had scarcely expected that it would 
bring me a Valentine. Uncertainly, suspecting some sort of a 
prank, I unfolded the paper, and immediately recognized the 
small, neat writing. 

Back in Rome [it said]. Where the hell are you? Only consola- 
tion for my sore arse will be when I see your smiling face. 

JOHN 

I could not believe it. Was John Furman really back in Rome ? 

"It's true all right, me boy," grinned the monsignor. "I've seen 
him with my own two eyes, and talked to him as I am talking to 
you now." 

"But this is marvellous news ! It seems like a miracle ! " 

"It is that," Monsignor O'Flaherty agreed. "But I think John 
rather helped it on its way." 

"Nothing could surprise me less. How did he manage it this 
time?" 

"Took a leaf out of your book, so far as I can gather hacked 
a hole in a train, and jumped out. Then he and another chap 
named Johnstone rode bicycles here up and down mountains from 
the other end of Italy." 

"That explains his cryptic comment," I laughed. "Monsignor, 
do you know, these last few days I've been thinking of myself call- 
ing on John's wife, and telling her that he got shot as a spy or 
something, because of a job I let him in for. Not the sort of thing 
one looks forward to, I can tell you. But I should have known 
better I should have known they could never hold a chap like 
John for long. How is he apart from the complaint he men- 
tions?" 

"Furious because he can't get straight in to sec you," answered 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 131 

the monsignor. "But seriously, I imagine all this unorthodox 
travelling has not done his dysentery much good. He needs a bit 
of building up, and a few nights in a comfortable bed." 

Meanwhile Furman and the other man were having their first 
good meal for weeks. I wished I could have gone with the mon- 
signor to see them, and half hoped he might suggest some means 
of smuggling me out of the legation, but I was a prisoner, not 
just as a matter of expediency, but also as a matter of honour. 
It was practical common sense that I should not allow the cloak 
to slip from the secret of my existence while 2500 escapers and 
evaders, scattered in and around Rome, depended for the main- 
tenance of their freedom on the organization. There was also the 
information service, which was of some value to the Allies, and 
I had to remember that a moment of carelessness on my part 
might lead to such extreme measures as the expulsion of the 
British Minister, the closure of the legation, and the collapse of 
the whole organization. It would not have been hard to talk the 
monsignor into lending me his soutane again, but I knew that to 
walk out through the gates would be to break faith with Sir 
D'Arcy Osborne, if not with all those who depended on the con- 
tinuation of the organization. With a jolt of conscience, I realized 
that I was not now just a gunner underground : I was not merely 
a 'ghost,' but something of a diplomatic secret. 

Nevertheless, I was personally as well as professionally in- 
terested in methods of escape, and eager to hear from John Fur- 
man's own lips how he had completed his hat-trick of escaping 
from German hands three times in six months. Bit by bit I pieced 
the story together, although it was to be a long time before Fur- 
man himself could fill in all the gaps, and I think it was one of 
the most daring and efficient escapes of the war. At the time, I 
summed it up more directly as "bloody marvellous." 

All the odds had been against Furman from the start, 
for the Regina Coeli itself was virtually escape-proof, and 
there was nothing equivocal about the German commander's 
warning when the British prisoners were lined for transportation 
northward. "Your guards have been warned to shoot to kill at the 
first signs of an attempted escape." Small wonder that Furman, 
in his hastily written second note, had visualized himself meeting 
the same fate as Captain Jock Short. 

The first ninety miles of the journey north were made by 



132 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

motor-coach, under the constant surveillance of a singularly 
tough-looking group of guards, who kept their carbines at the 
ready. The only bright moment came when the coach broke 
down, and had to be towed by two oxen, commandeered by the 
Germans at pistol-point. At a transit camp Furman teamed up 
with Lieutenant J. S. Johnstone, R.E., a blond giant of a man 
who had been with us at Chieti, and together they hatched a 
hazardous plan for escape over the wire, but they were moved on, 
perhaps fortunately, before they had the opportunity to try it out. 

Before entraining for Germany, together with nearly a thousand 
others, they were thoroughly searched, but Furman was even 
more successful than at the Regina Coeli, from which he had 
emerged with his money still secure in a loaf of bread. He not 
only retained a pair of scissors, stolen from the unsavoury black- 
marketeer at Regina Coeli, but gained an excellent cigarette- 
lighter. Seeing a box full of "forbidden items," like lighters and 
fountain-pens, confiscated from other prisoners, he used his fluent 
German to tell the officer in command that a lighter had been 
taken from him which was completely unserviceable but of very 
great sentimental value. Rather to his surprise, the German gave 
him permission to look for it, so Furman rummaged around in 
the box, and took the best lighter he could find, salving his con- 
science with the thought that the rightful owner would no doubt 
prefer him to a German, as the new owner. 

The train in which the prisoners were to travel was not a sight 
to inspire confidence. Every two or three wagons had a turret 
from which armed guards could get an excellent view, and the 
wagons themselves were closed box-cars, with only small ven- 
tilators, which had been securely boarded up and wired. Even Fur- 
man recognized that breaking out of such a mobile dungeon with 
a pair of scissors was likely to be difficult, but as he craned around 
the door for a last breath of air before the wagon was sealed, he 
saw on the tracks a few yards away a rusty iron bar. His pleas 
of dysentery, vocally supported by his companions, were eventu- 
ally heeded by the Germans, who allowed him to leave the wagon. 
Furman walked away from the train, threw his jacket carelessly 
over the iron bar, and settled down. There he sat, watched by a 
dozen armed Germans, and then, picking up the bar in his coat, 
scampered back to the train. By the time he reached the wagon a 
large part of the rusty iron bar was protruding from his coat, but 



HOMINO PIGEON AND CAGED LION 133 

the Germans did not notice it. His fellow prisoners, however, had 
cottoned on, and eagerly hauled him and his trophy aboard. 

A break-out, to have a reasonable chance of success, had to be 
made while the train was in motion (because of the noise), and 
at night (because of the guards), but all through that night the 
train remained in the sidings, and next day Furman had to sit 
impatiently and impotently for hours as the train put more and 
more miles between him and Rome. As evening approached, the 
work began. Laborious carving made two deep cuts in the wood- 
work at the end of the wagon, and a single mighty blow with the 
iron bar left a neat hole two feet square. 

Furman and Johnstone clambered out on to the buffers, fortu- 
nately concealed from the turrets in each direction, but the train 
was rattling along at nearly fifty miles an hour, and they could 
feel themselves slowly freezing as they waited for it to slow down 
sufficiently for them to jump. When at last it slackened speed 
they jumped in opposite directions and the firing opened up at 
once. 

Furman dashed into a back garden adjoining the tracks, and 
Johnstone hurtled past him a few seconds later, and plunged 
through a hedge. They lay panting, and listening to the con- 
tinuing firing as other prisoners took their turn to jump farther 
down the line. But the train kept moving, and when at last all 
was quiet again they got up, and padded away in their stockinged 
feet. Their boots had been confiscated before they entrained, and 
when they were told they could have them back if they gave 
their parole not to escape their reply was a derisive laugh. 

Furman, who was always ready to make the bold approach to 
Italians, and was invariably lucky in those he found, soon or- 
ganized food and footwear, and eventually a change of dress for 
Johnstone, whose ragged prison-camp clothing was all the more 
conspicuous by its contrast to his companion's smart city suit. As 
a final master-stroke, Furman purchased two ancient bicycles, 
for through all his tribulations and searches he had contrived 
to retain 3000 lire of the Rome Organization money in his posses- 
sion at the time of his arrest. They were only a few miles from 
the borders of Switzerland, where they could easily have spent 
the rest of the war in internment, but they never gave it a thought. 
From the moment that he was driven out of the gates of the 
Regina Codi, Furman had never wavered in his determination 



134 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

to return to Rome, and Johnstone had caught his infectious en- 
thusiasm although Rome was more than 200 miles away. 

The next fortnight was a marathon of country lanes and moun- 
tain passes, of wide detours to avoid towns, guarded bridges and 
road-blocks, of dragging climbs and exhilarating descents, at the 
end of one of which Johnstone complained that his bicycle did not 
seem to have responded quite as it should have done round the 
innumerable hairpin bends. Furman inspected it, and found that 
the front forks had parted company completely from the rest of 
the ancient machine. They had help from many Italians, but none 
more valuable than the information they gleaned from a farmer 
they met near the outskirts of Rome, for it was he who told 
them, first, that bicycles were not permitted to enter the city, and, 
secondly, that trams from the near-by village of Monte Mario 
were never checked at the road-blocks. The two officers gave their 
bicycles to the village priest of Monte Mario, for the benefit of 
his poorest parishioners, boarded the tram, and, with a combina- 
tion of amusement and amazement, watched over the top of their 
newspapers as the road-block guards checked every form of traffic 
going into Rome except the tram in which they sat. 

Within twenty minutes they were in the heart of the city, and 
Furman led Johnstone to St Peter's Square, but he realized that 
great caution was required : he had no way of knowing how far 
the disaster of January 8 had spread, how many billets had fallen, 
and how many more had been compromised, or even if the or- 
ganization still existed at all. To go to any of the addresses he 
knew might be to walk straight back into captivity, and to ap- 
proach the Collegio Teutonicum without knowing if the mon- 
signor and I had been arrested was unthinkable. With the calm 
discretion that is so often the corollary of exceptional initiative, 
Furman deposited Johnstone, a conspicuous giant who looked 
more like a German deserter than a British escaper, in a quiet 
corner of the square, where he was unlikely to come in contact 
with the German sentries, who rarely moved from their appointed 
stations, and went off on his own. 

With the confidence that comes from familiar surroundings, 
Furman made his way to a small shop facing the square, where 
the proprietor had, he knew, rendered small services to us in the 
past without becoming deeply involved in the organization. The 
Italian agreed to get a message to Monsignor O'FIaherty that 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 135 

a friend was waiting for him in the square, and it seemed only 
minutes later that the tall priest was striding towards him, hand 
outstretched, face beaming, and rich brogue bellowing, "In the 
name of God, John, it's good to see you back." 

Furman took him to where the bewildered Johnstone was wait- 
ing, and the monsignor led them to the house of Fathers ClafFey 
and Treacy, where he left them while he rushed off to inform me 
of the good news. 

That afternoon the monsignor returned to them with one of his 
own suits for the down-at-heel Johnstone, the monsignor's great 
height having once again proved an advantage. He led the two 
officers back to the square, where Lieutenant Simpson and Rcnzo 
Lucidi were waiting for them, and, after a joyous reunion in 
sight of the Germans, they made their way to the flat of a loyal 
Italian helper, Pestalozzi, where there was another reunion with 
Adrienne Lucidi. In the evening they all had a party, but Fur- 
man was anxious to get back into action, so Renzo Lucidi and 
Bill Simpson spent most of the next day putting him in the picture. 

Furman was appalled at the effect on the organization, and 
was hard to convince that there was no prospect of our meeting. 
Since I was already accustomed to conducting most of my con- 
versations with the aid of an elderly typewriter, I lost no time in 
writing to him. 

I cannot possibly say how pleased I was to hear of your trium- 
phant re-entry into Rome [I wrote]. When I got the news I just 
didn't believe it until "Golf' confirmed that he'd actually seen 
you; it was just too good to be true. Recently I had been imagin- 
ing seeing your wife and daughter, wondering if they would hear 
from you before my arrival, and thinking of handing over the 
presents which I was holding for you. Now I hope we shall all 
go home together what a time we shall have ! I might add that, 
in my humble opinion, the initiative and determination you have 
shown in your three escapes is absolutely terrific. 

Incidentally, John, the work done by Bill, Joe, and you during 
the last few months is beyond all praise. 

Furman did not reply for four days. 

I had been hoping [he wrote apologetically], a letter would not 
be necessary, optimistically thinking I might be able to see you 
within a day or two. I'm looking forward to a yarn with you, 



136 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

and the sooner the better in fact, I have been looking forward 
to it ever since the "break." All the way down here, when I 
wasn't thinking of my sore bottom, I pictured your face when 
you heard I was back. The warmth of my reception on my return 
was such as almost to compensate for the trials and tribulations 
of the preceding month. But we should all be better off without 
these excitements. 

By the time he got around to writing, Furman was already 
thoroughly back on the job, somewhat to my concern, for my idea 
had been that he should remain under cover for a time. Activity 
by the authorities was intense at the time, for the Germans were 
making continuous round-ups, to secure forced labour for the 
defence positions being constructed around Rome, and the Italian 
Fascists were making no less frequent raids aimed at the black 
market, which had already made nonsense of the Roman ration- 
ing system. The black market had the enthusiastic support of our 
organization, for we had a vested interest in any illicit trade that 
enabled us to obtain food and other supplies without the formality 
of ration documents. One weird effect of our black-market trans- 
actions, incidentally, was that tobacco supplies reached the very 
people for whom they were originally intended, via complex 
roundabout routes. The cigarettes were packeted in America for 
issue to Allied troops, but had been captured by the Germans, 
and issued to their soldiers. They, in turn, sold them to Italian 
black-marketeers, from whom they were bought by our agents, 
and eventually distributed among the escapers. 

Furman drifted back into work by attaching himself to Simp- 
son as an unofficial assistant, helping to escort escapers to new 
billets, delivering supplies, and checking on reports of enemy 
activity; I soon became resigned to the fact that he was fully 
operational again, whether I thought it safe or not, and I could 
not order him to stay underground while the load on Simpson 
was so heavy. I contented myself with warning him to be careful, 
and not to try to work at the speed which had been possible in the 
days when he last knew Rome. 

One day Monsignor O'Flaherty said that if John did not see 
mq spon I would find him breaking into the place. 

"I'll see him to-morrow," I laughed. "At long range. Tell him 
to be in your room at three o'clock. Ill give him a wave from the? 
window," 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 137 

At the appointed time I looked out from the high legation flat, 
across a jumble of buildings and squares, to the distant Collegio 
Teutonicum, and at a third-floor window I could just make out 
a figure. I waved cheerfully, wondering if Furman could see 
more of me than I saw of him. In fact, he could he was using 
binoculars. As I left the window, I wondered if the gesture had 
been worthwhile, for it had made me feel my isolation more 
keenly than ever. 

Out in the city Simpson and Furman divided the duties equally, 
but agreed it was not wise for them to continue to share the same 
billet. Furman organized a home for himself with a middle-aged 
clerk, Romeo Giuliana, whose eighteen-year-old son became one 
of his principal helpers, with, ultimately, calamitous consequences. 

It was through Furman that Mrs Chevalier's ever-ready apart- 
ment came back into use. One day he learned that an Italian, 
who had guided four escapers into Rome, had been arrested, and 
had started to talk. The man knew nothing about the organiza- 
tion, but he did know where the four escapers were billeted. Sure 
enough, the house was raided, but Furman, forewarned, had 
already moved the escapers. He had put them in "Mrs M.'s." I 
was not very happy about this, because it was only an unexpected 
tip-off from somebody outside the organization that had averted 
disaster there before, but, in fact, Furman had set the pattern for 
the use of Mrs Chevalier's flat in the immediate future. It was to be 
the temporary home of escapers whose billets had become unsafe. 

It was also, by chance, to be pressed into service as a make- 
shift nursing-home. We had to arrange a good deal of medical 
attention for the escapers in the country areas during the hard 
winter, but the report that came in from a group at Subiaco, 
some miles from Rome, was more disturbing than usual. A 
Cameron Highlander, Private N. I. Anderson, had acute appen- 
dicitis, and needed an immediate operation. The supply of medi- 
cines and even qualified medical attention was no great problem, 
but we did not have a fully equipped operating theatre. 

I therefore decided that Anderson would have to be brought 
to Rome, and deposited at the door of a suitable hospital, where 
he would lose his freedom but gain medical attention. "White- 
bows" (Brother Robert Pace), who had for some time acted as 
the link for this group, went to see him, but returned a few hours 
later with a surprising reply. 



138 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

"He won't go," said Brother Robert. "All he says is, Tve 
come this far, and if nothing can be done for me I'd rather die 
than give myself up to the Jerries.' " 

I admired his spirit, but had no intention of letting him die. 
I did not know the answer, but was sure Monsignor O'Flaherty 
would. 

He did. He got in touch with an old friend of his, Professor 
Albano, surgeon at the Regina Elona Lazzaretto, a big hospital, 
to which at this time the Germans were sending many of their 
seriously wounded troops from the Anzio battlefield, and the pro- 
fessor agreed to carry out an emergency operation that night on 
"the monsignor's friend" without giving any information to the 
authorities. However, an official check of the hospital was im- 
minent, so the patient would have to be removed immediately 
after the operation. It was impossible for him to be taken to a 
ward, even for long enough to recover from the anaesthetic. 

A second difficulty was that of getting Anderson to and from 
hospital. Ambulances were out of the question, taxis were non- 
existent in Rome, the distance was too great for a horse-drawn 
carrozza, and the few private cars were mostly in the hands of the 
Fascists, since elaborate permits were required for their use. That 
left only the small group of cars belonging to the few members of 
the Corps Diplomatique, who were still able to move freely, and 
one of these was in the possession of the Irish Ambassador, Dr 
Kiernan. The monsignor was on good terms with the strictly 
neutral Irishman, but he knew that there was nothing to be 
gained by a request that he should allow his car to be used for 
clandestine purposes. On the other hand, there was nothing to 
be lost by an appeal to Mrs Kiernan. . . . 

When the Irish "C.D." car swept out of the city that evening 
it carried an Irishman who was no diplomat the massively built 
Father John Buckley, known in our organization as "Spike." 
Father Buckley had qualified for the job because he was the big- 
gest and most powerful of the monsignor's helpers, for that night 
he was to do the work of two stretcher-bearers. At Subiaco he 
carried the almost insensible Anderson bodily into the car, and at 
the hospital he carried him into the reception hall, and placed 
him gently on a trolley in the care of two nurses, who were in the 
professor's confidence. 

The professor, who had already that evening carried out four 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 139 

operations on German soldiers, turned his attention at once to 
Anderson, and within an hour the Scot, sewn up and still un- 
conscious, was wheeled out of the operating theatre, and gathered 
again into the vast arms of Father Buckley. 

Monsignor O'Flaherty, working on the basis that Anderson's 
biggest need would be for a selfless motherly care, which could 
not be provided in many of our billets and was certainly not avail- 
able at Subiaco, told Father Buckley to take the patient to Mrs 
Chevalier's flat, where they arrived to find Lieutenant Furman 
waiting in a state of some concern. 

He had learned that the place might be under observation, so 
it was essential that anybody billeted there should be able to get 
away in a hurry if necessary. "This chap doesn't look as if he can 
move very fast," said Furman. 

"That he can't," said Father Buckley. "But the point is that if 
the poor boy isn't put to bed soon he'll be a corpse." 

It was Mrs Chevalier herself who settled the issue, command- 
ing Father Buckley to take Anderson up without further delay. 
"It will be all right," she assured Furman, and by the time the 
massive priest had toiled up three flights of stairs with the grey- 
faced Scot in his arms, she had a bed all ready. 

I received the reports on this enterprise with a mixture of relief 
and anxiety. I was relieved that the operation had been com- 
pleted, because Anderson had been suffering from severe appen- 
dicitis and peritonitis, and might well have failed to survive an- 
other day, but I was concerned by the news that the surgeon still 
considered the patient's condition to be "very grave," and I was 
seriously worried about the possibility of another raid. "Mrs M." 
was already looking after five escapers who had been forced to 
move from other billets, and we had gone to great lengths to 
ensure that they all had an efficient evacuation drill worked out 
in detail and thoroughly rehearsed, but it was obvious that it 
would be a long time before Anderson could, in emergency, do 
anything to save himself or, even more important, the woman 
looking after him. 

The raid we had all feared came just seven days after Ander- 
son's operation, and he was still immobile, and by no means out 
of danger. Once again, however, Mrs Chevalier was forewarned, 
by a young Italian who worked in a minor capacity at the 
German headquarters. Possibly without knowing that she had 



140 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

anything to hide, but purely as a neighbourly act, he called 
on her shortly after five o'clock, and told her, "Your flat is to be 
raided at seven." 

Mrs Chevalier informed the five fit escapers, who left un- 
obtrusively at five-minute intervals, and sent one of her large 
family rushing off with a message to Monsignor O'Flaherty. 
When he received it there was only an hour to spare, but in that 
time he saw Mrs Kiernan, again 'requisitioned' her husband's car, 
rounded up Father Buckley, and dispatched him post-haste to Via 
Impera. Father Buckley gathered up Anderson, now conscious 
but in considerable pain, ran with him in his arms down the steep 
stairs to the car, and swept away, watched by a tearful Mrs Cheva- 
lier, who was sure Anderson could not survive such a journey. 

By the time the security men arrived, punctually at seven 
o'clock, the apartment bore an outward innocence, but Mrs 
Chevalier was lucky, nevertheless, for once again it was the size 
of her own family that saved her. Faced by so many people in 
such a small flat, the police made only a cursory examination for 
signs of more. 

I breathed again, expressed my congratulations and thanks to 
those responsible, and once again issued orders. "No more lodgers 
for 'Mis M.'" 

So far as Private Anderson was concerned, I would not have 
believed that any man's constitution could withstand being carted 
about like a sack of potatoes immediately after a major opera- 
tion, and now I was pessimistic about his chances of surviving a 
second move in a week. He was sent "up the hill" to our safest 
billet, in the grounds of the Collegio Americano, which now held 
the largest of our groups in Rome, under the command of Lieu- 
tenant Colin Lesslie, of the Irish Guards. Lieutenant Lesslie spent 
half his time working out new schemes for rejoining the Allies, and 
just before Anderson's arrival he had returned 20,000 lire, which 
I had advanced to him for a plan involving sailing a boat to Sar- 
dinia, which he reluctantly abandoned after running into a host 
of insurmountable difficulties. Anderson presented Lesslie with 
a new problem, and he did everything possible to ensure that the 
sick man had comfort, quiet, security, and good food. After hover- 
ing between life and death for a fortnight, the dour Scot, whose 
own will to live had never weakened, began to gain rapidly in 
strength, and by the end of the month was well on the way to 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 141 

recovery. His eventual restoration to health was, in fact, com- 
plete, and I suppose it could be said that rarely has a man owed 
his life to such strangely assorted factors as a scholarly monsignor, 
with the incisive brain of a business tycoon; a giant priest, with 
the strength of a lion and the gentleness of a lamb; an Irish lady, 
whose humanity overwhelmed political propriety; a little Maltese 
widow, with a gallant heart as big as her own expansive family; 
and an Italian surgeon, who, with his enemies all around him, 
risked his life to save a life. 

As February ran out the pace continued to increase. In four 
weeks we added 338 names to those on the roll of escapers and 
evaders in our care, bringing the total to 2591, in spite of recap- 
tures, escapes into Switzerland, and, in a very few cases, successful 
returns to Allied-held territory. 

The flow into Rome itself remained the biggest problem, and 
it was intensified by the arrival of men from the front at Anzio, 
who had been cut off from our forces without ever falling into 
enemy hands. We were also receiving an increasing number of 
American bomber crews, who came in groups of six or seven at 
a time, all largely unaware of the German grip on Rome, and 
generally expecting to find that the best hotel in the city had been 
taken over for their reception. From beginning to end of February 
the number of escapers actually in Rome rose from eighty-four to 
1 1 6, and on several days it was very much higher, for new arrivals 
often outnumbered the day's dispatches to country groups. 

The basic policy of the organization remained, as ever, to re- 
duce the numbers of escapers in Rome, because keeping them in 
the city had two disadvantages: first, their maintenance cost 
much more than in the country, and secondly, there was the 
never ending difficulty of finding Italians prepared to take the 
risk of housing them for a return that barely covered costs, and 
this at a time when police activity was constantly increasing, and 
prices in the shops were rising steadily. 

When the Allies landed at Anzio a good many Italians, think- 
ing the end was near, decided to get back on the right side of the 
fence, and endeavoured to contact organizations such as ours with 
offers of assistance, but as the weeks dragged on, and the bridge- 
head forces came no nearer to Rome, that shallow source of supply 
dried up. Indeed, even some of the families who had helped us 
in the past began to get a little discouraged. 



142 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

In a report to Sir D'Arcy Osborne ("Mount") I wrote : 

While we do all we can to discourage ex-prisoners from coming 
to Rome, still the number keeps increasing. It becomes more and 
more difficult to find billets for them but I am afraid the number 
will still increase as time goes on. 

From experience, I knew what the rising numbers must mean 
to Lieutenants Furman and Simpson, on whom the burden of 
billeting rested to a large extent. 

It's a hell of a job finding billets now [Furman wrote], and, of 
course, when you do find them they insist on having officers. 

Furman's view was that if the Italians insisted on having com- 
missioned guests, then officers they must have even if it meant 
that the Rome Organization had to do some unorthodox pro- 
moting on its own. When one Italian agreed to take in two 
escapers provided they were officers Furman moved in two smart 
young men both privates and promptly gave them the very 
temporary (and unpaid) rank of lieutenant. 

On another occasion Furman received a message from the 
Greeks, who now called their movement "Liberty or Death," 
that they had in their hands a British major who had been 
parachuted behind the lines as a saboteur, and now appeared to 
have about half the Gestapo on his heels. Furman had just made 
arrangements with a well-to-do business woman, Luciana Zoboldi, 
to take in an officer, so he called on her, and told her to be ready 
to receive the major. Then he went off to meet Mario, the Greek 
agent, and found him accompanied, not by one man, but by two, 
for the saboteur had teamed up with another escaper. Furman 
thought he would be able to overcome that difficulty with 
Luciana, but the next snag almost stopped him in his tracks. The 
saboteur, addressed by Furman as "sir," looked uncomfortable, 
and explained that he was not a major but a sergeant-major. The 
Greeks had got hold of the wrong idea, and he, not knowing that 
he was to be transferred into British hands, had decided not to 
disillusion them. His companion was a private. Furman came to 
the conclusion that the fewest complications would arise if the 
deception was maintained; he had promised Luciana a major, 
and a "major" she got, together with another "officer." 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 143 

Furman might not have gone to such pains with this couple 
if he had known about them what I was able to tell him after he 
had reported their arrival. They had, in fact, already been 
through the organization once, while Simpson was working on 
his own, and had disappeared from Rome, owing their 'padrone* 
about six weeks' rent. As soon as I learned of their return, I put 
Furman in the picture, but in the meantime the pair, having 
stopped long enough to collect money separately from three 
sources in the organization within an hour, had departed from 
Rome again, ostensibly to head southward, in an attempt to re- 
join Allied forces. 

We 'promoted' escapers only rarely, but we came across scores 
who, since their escapes, had 'commissioned' themselves, and 
many of them clung tenaciously to their assumed officer-status, 
even when we had been able to confront them with particulars of 
their true identity, as we frequently could, thanks to the extensive 
card-index system built up by Captain Byrnes. Indeed, there were 
few men who had been in prison camps in Italy about whom we 
did not have an outline history. Most of the self-commissioned 
'officers' seemed to be South Africans, and I wrote to Furman and 
Simpson : 

During the past week I have received letters and applications 
for assistance from no less than ten officers, who, when checked 
up, proved to be sappers, privates, or lance-corporals (unpaid). 
All are S.A. I wonder why they do it? I suppose you know that 
Lieutenant Koster Kelly is really Private Kelly. . . . 

The truth was that the organization was now so vast that the 
people passing through were bound to include a few doubtful 
characters, particularly since any one who knew the ropes could 
turn our services to personal financial advantage. I issued money 
to several sources, to be handed out against the name and number 
of escapers, in order to ensure that new arrivals in Rome should 
have prompt assistance, and some of the cuter ones quickly dis- 
covered that they could achieve a useful working capital by 
making the rounds. This was reprehensible, to say the least, yet 
there were occasions when I felt inclined to take a lenient view 
of such duplication of assistance, which of course always came to 
light when I checked the numbers of those given money. 

There was, for instance, the case of the private who was taken 



THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

in the Via Chelini raid, but left in the Regina Coeli when the 
others were transferred. He was later moved to a prison camp, 
from which he immediately made good his escape, arriving back 
in Rome on the same day as Furman. Knowing the ropes, he 
collected, in a couple of days, 2000 lire and a suit of clothes from 
our contacts at the Swiss Legation, 3000 lire from me, via John 
May, and 1440 lire from Lieutenant Simpson. It was a pretty cool 
round-up, but I was so delighted with the man's success in having 
escaped again that I decided against taking any action beyond 
making sure that everybody concerned was warned not to make 
any further payment to this particular customer. 

The main purpose of our meticulous records was not, in any 
case, to protect us against the wiles of over-enterprising escapers 
so much as to preserve the security of the organization, for they 
indicated those whose behaviour while in prison camp had been 
suspect, as well as those who had never been in prison camps at 
all. I knew that some of the forty Arabs on the books were of 
dubious loyalty, since many of their race had come to Italy volun- 
tarily, to continue their profitable services to Italian or German 
officers. I also had reason to be cautious with the Indians coming 
into contact with the organization, for I knew that several of 
them had been, as mentioned previously, sufficiently swayed by 
"anti-Imperialist" propaganda to give active assistance to the 
Fascists. Men about whom we could not be absolutely certain 
although they must, in many cases, have been fully trustworthy 
were never billeted with Italian families, but sent to caves and 
other similar hides in the country. They were never visited by 
members of the organization, but had to call at pre-arranged 
points to collect a monthly subsistence allowance. Nonetheless, 
they occasionally approached the 'staff' for help, and Lieutenant 
Simpson's accounts once included 150 lire to enable an Indian, 
Atma S., to buy a hat. Taken prisoner while wearing a turban and 
beard, he had cut off his beard when he escaped, Simpson ex- 
plained, and naturally he needed a hat. 

I knew something about Atma, because he was one of those 
receiving a monthly allowance, and shortly afterwards I was able 
to give Simpson the more definite information that he was a 
rogue, and at one time had a job as batman to a well-known 
Fascist. 

When Simpson reported later that he had received a request 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 145 

to keep a rendezvous with Atma and some other Indians, whom 
he claimed to be guiding into Rome, I flashed back a warning 
at once. Simpson did not keep the appointment, and, though 
Atma remained on the monthly pay roll, there was no sudden 
influx of new Indian names to give credence to his story. 

One new arrival had to be side-tracked from the normal 
channels for an entirely different reason he bore a famous name. 
Towards the end of February I received a report that Paul Frey- 
berg, a lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, was in hiding in the 
Pope's summer villa at Castel Gandolfo, normally the only place 
ever visited outside Rome by a Pope during his reign, but at 
present a lonely outpost, virtually in the middle of the German 
line ringing the Allied bridgehead at Anzio. 

Freyberg had been cut off while on patrol, and captured, and 
though he escaped with commendable promptitude, he was un- 
able to find any way through the German forces massed round 
the brideghead. So he gave himself up at the palatial villa, which 
was clearly labelled as Vatican extra-territorial property. The 
priests there took him in, but with discomfiture, for he was the 
son of Major-General Bernard (later Field-Marshal Lord) Frey- 
berg, V.C., C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., commander of the New Zea- 
land Corps. 

Freyberg's name made him an embarrassment for the Rome 
Organization too, quite apart from the fact that it was impossible 
to make any direct approach to him because the Germans had 
established field workshops all round the villa, and how he got 
through without detection I could not imagine. 

Monsignor O'Flaherty discussed the situation with me, and we 
agreed that this was the one case where, if possible, we ought to 
organize an official internment in the Vatican, for, on the one 
hand, Freyberg would be a tremendous prestige-prize to the Ger- 
mans if they succeeded in recapturing him, while, on the other, 
his confinement in the Vatican should not be too protracted, 
since the Allied advance would soon liberate Rome. 

"But how do we move him along the main road from the 
batdefront?" I mused. "Then there's the problem of getting him 
through those German workshops." 

"Leave it to me, 9 * said the monsignor, after a moment's thought. 
"Fll see if anything can be arranged, me boy." 

I cannot remember how often the incredible cleric had said 



146 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

exactly this to me in varied circumstances, but I did know, from 
repeated experience, that when he said it the impossible task was 
as good as accomplished. The monsignor arranged with the priests 
at Castel Gandolfo to stow Freyberg into the boot of the official 
Vatican car, after its next routine call with supplies for the staff 
at the villa, and in due course the car, a familiar enough sight to 
the Germans, swept unhindered through the workshop area with 
a crumpled grenadier slowly suffocating in the back. The car 
covered the eighteen miles to Rome in half an hour, swept through 
the gates of the Vatican, and stopped close to the barracks, 
where Freyberg emerged gratefully, to become the first escaper 
to be officially interned since the guards had been given their 
orders to expel forcibly any unauthorized person attempting to 
enter the Vatican City. 

He was also the first new arrival I had been able to welcome 
personally for some weeks, and one of the earliest things I learned 
about him was that he was on the verge of coming of age. The 
ubiquitous major-domo, John May, received this news with un- 
concealed delight. Always ready to organize a party, but rarely 
presented with the excuse for one, John May jerked all his black- 
market strings violently, and my small room became the setting 
for the only official party the Rome Organization ever organized. 
John May and I were joined by several of the British internees, 
who regularly called at the legation to relax in the club-room, 
which had once been the generous Mr Hugh Montgomery's study, 
and to the guest of honour it must all have seemed slightly unreal. 
A day or two earlier he had been in the midst of a violent battle, 
and now, twenty miles deeper in enemy territory, he was involved 
with other British officers in a riotous celebration of his twenty- 
first birthday, with everybody shouting joyfully in English, and 
singing English songs, as though there was not a single German 
within a couple of hundred miles. 

Luckily for me, the party came just when Lieutenant Simpson 
had succeeded in smuggling in a small supply of spirits. I was 
almost overwhelmed when the first bottle unexpectedly arrived, 
and wrote : "Gratissimo multi for the medicine it is just what 
the doctor ordered." The phrase stuck, and from then on the 
cash which I sent Simpson often included, with 'the firm's money,' 
some of my own, for what came to be known to us both as "the 
medicine account." 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 147 

Not without some interest did I read in a publication called 
The Tablet that "the presence of the ex-prisoners, all naval and 
military men, had considerably enlivened diplomatic life in the 
city." The article continued : 

The circumstances in which they succeeded, not without diffi- 
culty, in making their way into the jealously guarded precincts of 
the neutral sovereign state of the Vatican will some day be worth 
reading. They are lodged in what used to be the infirmary of the 
Pontifical Gendarmerie Barracks. . . . The ex-prisoners are well 
fed at the barracks, though they find the endless pasta a trifle 
monotonous. They also suffer somewhat from the cold, as the 
winter has been exceptionally severe in Rome, and the barracks, 
like the rest of the Vatican, with the single exception of the diplo- 
mats' quarters, has remained unheated. 

The Tablet was slightly wide of the mark, when it spoke of the 
forced inactivity of the cut-off diplomats, for our own legation 
was a hive of industry, and several of the others, like the Polish 
and the Jugoslav, seemed to be very active. 

Even I was by no means limited to one room, although I rarely 
ventured farther out of doors than the piazza, since the gendarme 
on duty would have recognized at once that I was not one of the 
thirteen official internees. However, I saw De Vial and De Blesson 
of the French Embassy practically every day, called on the Jugo- 
slav Charg6 d* Affaires, Tzukitch, three times a week, visited the 
American Minister, Mr Harold Tittman, periodically, and was 
constantly in and out of the Polish Legation, which was on the 
floor below our own. Between us we had a pretty thriving social 
life, and I attended many happy bridge parties with my French, 
Jugoslav, and Polish friends. 

At the Polish Legation, no matter how often I called, there 
was always a wonderful welcome, and it was there that I met 
Casimira Dabrowska, who had been a well-known portrait-painter 
in her own country. She was distressed because she was trapped in 
the Vatican, with practically no contact with the outside world, 
and so was unable to do much to help the organization's work. 
One day I was showing her the tiny photograph of my wife, 
Nancy, which I had managed to retain, through all my changes 
of fortune, in the screw-on back of my wrist-watch : the only one 
of my original possessions that had remained with me through- 
out. 



148 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

"So nice," said Casimira, "but, oh, so small. You must lend it 
to me. If I cannot do anything for your work I will do something 
for you : I will make a big copy of it." 

The result, produced a day or two later, was a magnificent 
drawing which I shall always treasure, for from the tiny snap- 
shot, she had built up a glowing, lifelike portrait of astounding 
integrity, guessing, with remarkable accuracy, the shoulder line, 
which the photograph did not reveal, and equipping Nancy with 
a dress which suited her perfectly. 

One way and another, my contact with representatives of 
Allied nations was satisfactory, but there were times when I wished 
that it was equally close with the British forces. By various means, 
I was able to send a good deal of information out of Rome, but it 
was a one-way traffic, and the lack of news from the opposite 
direction occasionally led to complications undreamed of by Allied 
Force Headquarters. 

At one stage we were concentrating escapers in an area which 
was ideal a valley nestling in a curve of hills, miles away from 
the city and trunk-roads, admirably suited for air supply-drops, 
well equipped with farms, where escapers could be billeted, yet 
with hills providing hiding-places in emergency. Above all, it was 
singularly free from German military occupation. Its principal 
link with the outside world was a railway viaduct running across 
the valley. 

To the planners of Allied special operations, the viaduct was 
an inviting target, and one night they parachuted down a couple 
of 'cloak and dagger' men, who made a thoroughly effective job 
of blowing it up. The immediate result was that furious German 
troops and S.S. units swarmed into the peaceful valley, and, 
assuming the sabotage to be the work of subversive Italians, went 
through every farm and every house with a toothcomb. In search- 
ing for explosives and indications of Italian activity, they inevit- 
ably unearthed a good number of Allied ex-prisoners, who, with 
their hosts, were promptly arrested. Fortunately, many of the 
escapers had intelligently rushed to the hills immediately the 
viaduct disintegrated, and most of the men we had sent to the 
valley maintained their freedom. On the other hand, we lost one 
of the best concentration centres we had ever found, but it would 
have been asking too much to expect the 'cloak and dagger 9 boys 
to let us know what they were going to blow up next. 



HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 149 

Nearer home I was more concerned at the lack of direct con- 
tact with my principal assistants. The letter-ferrying system was 
working well, all things considered, and hammering away at my 
typewriter, I found it fairly easy to convey instructions and advice, 
but it often took a long time by written question and answer to 
collect all the details I needed. 

The quiet, methodical Lieutenant Simpson seemed to be cap- 
able of sitting down in the monsignor's crowded, always noisy, 
room, and writing a detailed, flowing report, undistracted by the 
babel of criss-cross conversation, but the more mercurial Lieu- 
tenant Furman had no love at all for the system. Plaintively he 
ended one brief report : 

I can't think of anything else to say, but there are probably a 
thousand and one things. Writing letters in "Golfs" room, in 
company with twenty other people, all talking, is not the lightest 
of tasks. 

However, those who knew the circumstances accepted that it 
was impossible for us to meet, 

I never needed the advice of my lieutenants more than at 
the beginning of March, when the growing number of men in 
our care was beginning to swamp the organization, and I was 
really worried as I left my room one day, to consult the British 
Minister about a situation that was developing into a financial 
crisis. 

I closed my door pensively, and turned to walk down the long, 
straight corridor to the Minister's office. Then I stopped dead, 
astonished at what I saw. Standing at the end of the corridor, 
looking for all the world like a small lost dog, was the unmistak- 
able figure of Lieutenant John Furman. 



9 



Ides of March 



TORN between delight at seeing Lieutenant Furman again and 
the fear that his sudden appearance meant the pace had become 
too hot for him, and he had been forced to seek sanctuary in the 
Vatican, I could not get him quickly enough into the security of 
my own room. There, as we broached c the medicine bottle,' he 
rapidly dispelled my fears. 

"Just a social visit," he grinned. "I've been trying to get in to 
see you ever since I arrived back in Rome, you know." 

"But how the devil did you manage it ?" I asked. 

The fairy-godmother had been the Princess Nini Pallavicini, 
an old ally of mine from my days at the Collegio Teutonicum. 
One of the leaders of the group of Roman noble families who had 
consistently refused to co-operate with the Fascists, she had 
dramatically escaped through a rear window of her palace apart- 
ment as a raiding Fascist party entered through the front door, 
and had made for the Collegio Teutonicum, where Monsignor 
O'FIaherty gave her refuge, and where she eventually became one 
of his most loyal helpers. She had a great deal to do with the 
activities which enabled us to obtain Italian identity documents. 

She had mentioned in casual conversation to Furman that on one 
of the innumerable Italian saints' days she was going to attend ser- 
vice in the chapel, which formed part of the Vatican building 
where the British Legation was housed. He promptly asked to be 
included. Princess Nini agreed that there was a reasonable chance 
of getting him into the Vatican, as all seven or eight others in her 
party were already well known by sight to the Pontifical Guards, 
and were unlikely to be stopped for questioning. 

Furman, a small inconspicuous figure, walked in the middle 
of the group as they entered the Vatican, and was relieved to 
observe that the only reaction from the guards was a glance 
followed by a salute. They walked unmolested through the quiet 
squares, and into the tall hospice building, where they all turned 
towards the ground-floor chapel except Funnan, who bounded up 
the main stairs to the fourth floor. The monsignor had told him 



IDES OF MARCH 15! 

that the British offices were on the top floor, but had not pointed 
out that Furman would find himself in a long, deserted corridor, 
with unlabelled doors leading off on either side. Panting and 
puzzled, Furman was wondering which door would present the 
least risk of disaster when, by chance, I emerged from my room. 

"When I got up here, and found myself all alone, it seemed a 
bit of an anticlimax," he said, "but your entrance was right on 
cue." 

We were joined in my room by John May, Captain Byrnes, and 
the first secretary, Mr Montgomery, who suggested that before 
too much 'medicine' had been dispensed, it might be advisable 
to acquaint "Mount" of the unexpected visitor. Lieutenant Fur- 
man, who had expected at best to have a few words with me in 
some secluded comer, was not too happy about this, and expressed 
concern that his uninvited and wholly unconstitutional appear- 
ance in the legation might be an embarrassment, but I knew the 
Minister well enough to guess that it would take more than this 
to ruffle his equanimity. 

When I presented Lieutenant Furman in as matter-of-fact a 
manner as possible Sir D'Arcy Osborne did not reveal surprise 
by so much as the lift of an eyebrow. He greeted Furman with 
calm and warm courtesy, and I was once again lost in admira- 
tion of the ability of this polished diplomat to create, in any sur- 
roundings, the gracious atmosphere of an English country-house 
party. Furman, so fresh from the streets where terror marched in 
jack-boots, felt he had drifted into another world, and answered 
Sir D'Arcy's questions about prevailing conditions in the city in 
a slightly dazed manner. He left the legation that evening with 
the Minister's congratulations on his work still ringing in his ears, 
and with a new realization that his efforts and Simpson's, so far 
from being a demi-official and largely unknown enterprise, were 
fully appreciated in high places, and had the complete support 
of the British Government. Furman returned to the outside world 
with his little group of church-goers, leaving me to ponder on 
that strange, indefinable quality, which made three men who 
were as different as Sir D'Arcy Osborne, Monsignor O'Flaherty, 
and Lieutenant Furman, each, in his own way, a great leader of 
men. 

Furman declared that the visit had been like a potent tonic, and 
said he had every intention of repeating the experiment, and 



152 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

although I warned him that he must not employ the same trick 
a second time, his ingenuity enabled him to get in once more. 

He presented himself boldly at the Porta Santa Marta guard- 
room with a large parcel prominently labelled To be delivered 
personally to Sir D Arcy Osborne, K.CM.G.> and demanded, in 
voluble Italian, to be allowed to accomplish his mission. The 
guard, not surprisingly, told him to leave his parcel at the guard- 
room, but Furman protested that he must hand it over himself or 
not at all. 

After further argument, the exasperated guard telephoned the 
British Legation for some official to come down to the gate. John 
May took the message, went to the guardroom, and, giving no 
hint of recognition of the visitor, inspected the pared carefully, 
and then told the guard that he was sure it would be all right for 
the bearer to deliver it personally. Uncertainly, the guard ad- 
mitted Furman, and John May took him to the legation, where 
he led him, not to Sir D'Arcy, but to me. 

I was, of course, delighted to see Furman, and we had another 
gay little party, at which the guests this time included the latest 
internee, Lieutenant Paul Freyberg. But while admiring Furman's 
initiative, I felt that the risk was not justified. Without any sug- 
gestion of reproach, I tried to convey to him my growing concern 
at the chances constantly taken by Monsignor O'Flaherty, who 
had already incurred the displeasure of the Germans, and was in 
danger every time he stepped beyond the confines of his college. 

The latest of the monsignor's escapades involved our senior 
escaper, General Gambier-Parry, who, since his early eulogies of 
the advantages of his secret room, had found its disadvantages 
increasingly irksome. His messages to the monsignor clearly re- 
vealed growing impatience at his enforced inactivity, and the 
monsignor decided that the general should be taken on an outing. 
He chose to take him to of all things an official celebration of 
the Pope's birthday a reception at which our enemies would 
outnumber our friends. Brother Robert collected the general from 
the secret room, and took him by tram to St Peter's Square, where 
they were met by the monsignor and some of his varied acquaint- 
ances. The monsignor swept them along, introducing the general 
on the way as an Irish doctor friend, in tones loud enough to be 
heard by anybody they passed. At the party the "Irish doctor" 
was happily introduced right and left by the monsignor to high- 



IDES OF MARCH 153 

ranking diplomats and other guests, and even collected a few 
invitations to call at various legations. His charming personality 
made a considerable impression on the distinguished gathering, 
and I have no doubt that he found the party a great joy after the 
social restrictions of his life in a doorless room. 

But I heard about all this with mounting alarm, and it was not 
for the general that I was concerned. Although he had waived his 
unquestionable right to take over my command, he was still a 
general, and I could scarcely order him to remain in his billet, 
particularly since he was aware that many junior officers working 
for the organization were moving about Rome fairly openly. The 
safety of Monsignor O'Flaherty, however, was a different matter. 
The organization he had founded remained heavily dependent 
upon him and the priests who helped him, and we could not make 
light of the fact that if he should be arrested his fate would not be 
enviable. 

At the first opportunity I took the monsignor to task, telling 
him quite frankly that I considered he had taken an unwarrant- 
able risk. 

"Ah, the poor fellow needed a breath of air," he replied simply. 
"He's been cooped up for weeks. Not good for him, you know." 

"Now look, Monsignor," I said earnestly, "you know damn 
well I can't give him orders. He's a general, and if he chooses to 
go out and get himself recaptured there isn't much I can do about 
it. But I have every reason for wanting you to stay in circulation, 
and, heaven knows, you've attracted quite enough attention al- 
ready. I do beg you to be as cautious as you possibly can, at least 
until the German interest in you has died down a bit." 

"Never fear, me boy," said the monsignor, treating me to one 
of his vast, room-filling grins. "Ah, a pity it is I haven't brought 
me dubs. We could have done a bit of putting practice. Nothing 
like golf for knocking all the troubles of this poor world out of 
your mind." 

That was as far as we got. I sometimes suspected that Mon- 
signor O'Flaherty's overriding interest in golf was a sort of secret 
weapon which enabled him to change the subject at will. Never- 
theless, he did agree, eventually, that it was desirable to find 
something less alarming than visits to Vatican receptions as exer- 
cise for General Gambier-Pany, and by mid-March the general 
was moved to a new billet, where he had some freedom, although 



154 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

less luxury or security. He became a 'patient' at the hospital run 
by the Little Sisters of Mary, known as the "Blue Sisters," at San 
Stcfano Rotondo, where he was able to exercise in the grounds 
without endangering himself or the organization, and there, in 
fact, he remained safely until Rome was liberated. 

The visits of General Gambier-Parry and Lieutenant Furman 
to the Vatican were only two incidents in a period of audacious 
enterprise, in which the gallant Greeks, as ever, were prominent. 
I was intrigued when Angelo Averoff and Theodore Meletiou 
("Mario"), leaders of the newly constituted Liberty or Death 
movement, reported to me that they had managed not only to 
hire a car, which was unheard of at that time, but also to obtain 
all the complicated permits and coupons necessary to run it. These 
they had borrowed from a leading Fascist, who, like many of his 
kind, had an eye on the prospect of an early occupation of Rome by 
the Allies, and was anxious to put himself back on the right side 
of the fence, provided it did not involve him in any personal risk. 

Equipped with car and documents, Averoff and Meletiou de- 
cided to make an extended tour of northern Italy, to contact as 
many Greek escapers as possible, and, as usual, they offered their 
services to me. The offer was most timely, because I was ex- 
periencing considerable difficulty in delivering supplies in the 
north. In one district I was wholly reliant on a woman with a 
donkey for distributions to more than eighty allied escapers. 

When the car set off the Greeks carried with them 100,000 
lire of Rome Organization money, and a large stock of clothing, 
including dozens of pairs of boots, crammed in the back. I secretly 
doubted if they could be successful, even with their library of 
documents, in getting such a bulky cargo through the innumer- 
able road-blocks, and I should have been even less hopeful had 
I known that their personal equipment included the most dan- 
gerous of all 'verboten 9 possessions : a miniature camera. 

The gallant Greeks were confident and, in the event, un- 
believably successful. When they returned three weeks later they 
had motored for more than two thousand miles, reaching as far 
north as Milan, and had contacted dozens of groups of escapers, 
distributing clothing and money, and collecting information. They 
brought back with them up-to-date lists of escapers, with names 
and addresses of their next of kin, reports on the disposition of 
German forces all over northern Italy, and to crown everything 



IDES OF MARCH 155 

an interesting series of photographs of German preparations 
for a final defence line, only a few miles on the Italian side of the 
French border. 

I did not risk sending the photographs back to our lines, for 
they revealed nothing of immediate value, but had them packed 
in a tin, and buried in the Vatican gardens, pending the arrival 
of Allied intelligence units. The new lists of escapers, and par- 
ticularly of next of kin, were of more immediate interest, as I 
always considered that one of the important tasks of the organiza- 
tion was the prompt dispatch of news of escapers who, so far as 
their families were concerned, were simply missing, and we had 
developed a number of secret ways of achieving the flow of this 
welcome information out of Rome. 

Much of the other information collected by the Greeks was 
filtered back to Allied headquarters, but what I should have most 
liked to send at that juncture was a heartfelt plea to get on with 
the advance, for the delay was making it increasingly difficult 
for us to maintain an adequate supply of billets. 

There was also another factor, over which we had no control, 
which was making the finding of billets daily more difficult for 
Furman and Simpson. Inflation was galloping through Rome. 
The rationing system had broken down almost completely, and 
prices were soaring. The German Military Government had with- 
drawn their earlier ban on the importation of food into the city, 
and, in fact, were now trying to foster it, but this had resulted in 
only a small increase in supplies alongside a substantial expansion 
of the black market in food-stuffs at sky-high prices. 

To find billets is becoming more and more difficult, principally 
because the food question is becoming more and more serious 
[wrote Simpson]. The position now is very different from even 
two months ago : in that time there has been an average increase 
in the price of all commodities of from 80 to 100 per cent 

Close on the heels of this depressing report came another. 

Here are particulars of three others, whom we are due to collect 
on Wednesday God knows where we axe going to put them. 

The billeting officers were pressing for more money, but what 
they could not know was that the total cost of the organization 
was now running at about two million lire a month, or more than 



156 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

a thousand pounds a week, and there was no margin at all. Sir 
D'Arcy Osborne had already worked miracles'in securing fabulous 
quantities of lire notes, but I was plagued by the fear that the 
supply might suddenly dry up. 

About this time I found myself in a dilemma from another 
quarter. On the one hand, Furman and Simpson were pleading 
for an increase in the billeting allowance of 120 lire a day, and 
on the other, the British Minister was passing on complaints from 
other legations that our billeting allowance was too high. I dis- 
cussed the Rome problem from all angles with the Minister, but 
the 'official view 9 I had to relay back was not encouraging for 
Furman and Simpson : 

1 20 lire a day is higher than the subsistence paid by other Allied 
nations (Poles, French, Russians, Jugoslavs, etc.), and, in fact, we 
have been criticized by the others for paying out at the i20-lire 
rate they say it has cut them out of the billet market Of the 
money paid out, the odd 120 people in Rome cost much more per 
head per day than the remaining 2500 : in fact, 120 in Rome cost 
us about half a million in February while the remaining 2500 cost 
us about one-and-a-quarter million (and, by the way, officially, 
cigarettes are not regarded as necessary for living). I fear, John 
and Bill, that all this will be answered by one rude word, but I 
just can't help it. 

By anticipating that my hard-pressed lieutenants would respond 
with a terse epithet, I misjudged them, for Simpson's reply was 
thoughtful, tolerant, and sympathetic. 

We think they are all very reasonable points [he wrote], I cer- 
tainly sympathize with you in your position you get all the 
knocks from both sides. 

Simpson had, however, no intention of accepting defeat with- 
out stating his case, and he continued : 

Rome is, as you already know, an entirely different proposition 
from the country; we all know that, having experienced both, and 
having lived quite well in the country without any money at all. 
The Romani, on the other hand, are money-conscious. . . . 

All this argument did result in one small victory, and we were 
able to arrange payment on a flat rate of 4000 lire a month, 
representing an extra ten to fourteen lire a day. 



IDES OF MARCH 157 

It was perhaps unfortunate for the billeting officers that just 
at this time the British Minister was receiving reports that some 
of our officers had been seen dining in luxurious hotels. Many had 
managed to make their own arrangements with well-to-do Italians 
for cashing cheques or providing lire against an IOU payable 
after the arrival of the Allied forces, and so long as they used this 
money for the purchase of extra comforts, or even to finance 
parties in the safety of their billets, I was not concerned, but some 
were indiscreet. 

Although they did not go out of the way to draw attention to 
themselves, the whisper began to pass round, "Rome is starving, 
yet escaped British officers are dining in the best hotels." On both 
points it was an exaggeration, but in its more dangerous form the 
whisper became, "Why should I risk my life to help ex-prisoners 
when British officers can be seen in the best restaurants ?" Italians 
spoke to their parish priests; the priests passed it on to the bishops; 
the bishops reported it to the Vatican; and from the Vatican 
Secretariat of State the British Minister would receive an austere 
inquiry whether he was aware that British officers had been seen 
dining in the same restaurant as Germans. 

I asked Simpson and Furman to ensure that cscapers with 
money of their own spent it discreetly, making it clear that I was 
excepting them from the general complaint. They were now 
working and living separately, and kept in touch with each other 
by meeting for a meal or a drink, which was more pleasant and 
less dangerous than calling at each other's billets. I had no doubt 
of their ability to deal with trouble. Unlike the men in their charge, 
they were accustomed to moving openly about Rome; they spoke 
the language, and knew how to behave as Italians; they had 
friendly contacts in the places they visited who could be trusted 
to warn them of impending danger, and, above all, they were 
both capable of carrying off difficult situations with astonishing 
sang-froid. 

On one occasion Simpson was waiting for Furman in an other- 
wise empty bar when a group of German officers strode in, accom- 
panied by a flat-nosed giant, who was immediately recognizable 
as the idol of Germany the heavyweight boxing champion, Max 
Schmeling. Simpson knew that if he attempted to walk out the 
Germans would interpret his action as a protest by an unfriendly 
Italian, and would immediately haul him back, but if he remained 



158 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

where he was, silent and alone, they would probably become sus- 
picious anyway. He therefore did the only other thing he could 
think of : he invited them all to join him in a drink. The Germans 
accepted, and in due course returned the compliment, and before 
long they were all gathered round the piano, singing popular 
songs together. Simpson became quite the life and soul of the 
party, but when the Germans invited him to join them for dinner 
he decided that it had gone far enough, so, with diffidence and 
charm, excused himself, and departed. 

It was not only the spending of officers that gave me cause for 
concern. As the days dragged on, and the relief of Rome, which 
had seemed near in January, remained as far off as ever, the men 
in the billets became frustrated and bored, and some got drunk 
with money borrowed against lOU's, or, in a few bad cases, with 
money which should have been given to their Italian 'padrones.' 
They seemed to be incapable of realizing that they lacked the 
native capacity for vino, and I began to receive disturbing reports 
of men wandering drunkenly back from wine-shops to their 
billets disturbing, because there was no surer way of attracting 
attention to the homes of our Italian helpers. The thoughtless 
few were never more than a tiny proportion of the men in Rome, 
but they were a dangerous minority, since the arrest of a single 
drunken escaper could easily lead to the execution of an Italian 
and the imprisonment of his family. 

I clamped down firmly on this crack in discipline, and every 
case reported was investigated at once. Sometimes the circum- 
stances revealed were not very serious, but even in these cases I 
issued stern warnings. To one private I wrote : 

I have heard of the affair of a few nights ago, when you were 
in an intoxicated condition. I really wonder if you can realize 
what is being done for you by various people (for example, the 
people in whose house you live, and the padre friends). Do you 
understand that as the result of an affair like that of the other 
evening, these people might have lost their lives? And if anything 
like that happened you, and you alone, would have been respon- 
sible; a thing that would be on your conscience all your life. Any 
future conduct contrary to good order and discipline will have 
serious consequences afterwards. In the circumstances under which 
you are living at the moment an affair of this kind is made all the 
more serious because the safety of your comrades is endangered 
as well as your own. 



IDES OF MARCH 159 

To an Indian soldier I wrote : 

It has come to my notice that you are taking unnecessary risks, 
which not only may lead to your recapture, but may also lead to 
the recapture of your comrades. Apart from this there is the danger 
of reprisals on the local people and their friends, who are assisting 
you and your comrades. In view of this you are to remain in 
hiding, and go out only when absolutely necessary. I realize that 
you have probably been confined now for a very long period, but 
I am sure you would not wish to endanger others. 

These were relatively mild cases, but in really serious instances, 
as well as preparing (and burying) reports for disciplinary action 
in the future, I did not hesitate to expel offenders from Rome. 
To one trooper I wrote : 

I have received a full report on your atrocious behaviour during 
the last week. I have made out a full report which will be sent to 
the proper authorities. You are to get out of Rome at once. Im- 
mediately after the liberation of Rome by the Allies, you will 
have to answer charges. 

It was a difficult time all round, and one billet in particular 
seemed to be occupying a good deal of Lieutenant Furman's 
attention. It was a flat run by a woman named Teresa, who was, 
I think, the only one of our 'padrones' who ever attempted to 
make her living by looking after escaped prisoners-of-war. 

I had first come into contact with her when I was doing the 
outside work now done by others. She was an acquaintance of 
Mrs Chevalier, and agreed to take a couple of officers in her 
furnished rooms. When the firm for which she worked was evacu- 
ated to another part of Italy she gave up her job and her rooms, 
but approached John Furman with an offer to take the lease of 
a flat, providing the organization would give an undertaking to 
billet a couple of escapers with her. Furman agreed with the idea, 
but was captured in the January raids before he had made any 
firm agreement with her about payment, which was a pity, be- 
cause during my time she had put in such enormous expense 
accounts that I had to move her lodgers elsewhere. 

When Furman returned to duty he was promptly presented 
by Teresa with large expense accounts, and, referring them to 
me, he pointed out that the position was very tricky because it 



l6o THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

was clear that Teresa had spent her own money on building up 
stock. 

Furman had a long session with Teresa, but even his nimble 
accountant's brain could not break down her claims, and he 
reported back sadly, "We argued about it, but there is little that 
can be done." 

"Well, try to keep her down to the minimum," I replied. 
"Billets are far too hard to find now but tell her to keep the 
bills down, anyway." 

Realization of the existence of people like Teresa, willing to 
make a full-time job of looking after escapers, led us to establish, 
for the first time since the fall of the Via Firenze and Via Chelini 
flats, an 'elastic billet/ capable of holding large numbers tem- 
porarily in emergency. It occurred to Furman that if we could 
obtain a large apartment cheaply, and install our own 'padrone' 
in it, many of our present troubles would be overcome. I approved, 
and, through Princess Nini's lawyer, Furman obtained a suitable 
flat at a nominal rent. The lease was signed in the name of a 
woman known as Sara, who was installed there to take charge of 
it. She was, it need hardly be added, a friend of Teresa. 

The two original clearing-houses were now, of course, dis- 
tinctly out of bounds, and we kept well away from them until 
there came what seemed to be a message from the dead. The 
telephone rang at the home of our friends, Renzo and Adrienne 
Lucidi, and Renzo, answering cautiously, as always, said simply, 
"Hello ?" "Renzo," said a once familiar voice at the other end. 
"ThisisJoePollak." 

"Where are you ?" asked Renzo excitedly. 

"In Rome," replied Pollak. "At the Via Chelini flat." 

"Good God !" said Renzo. He had reason to be horrified be- 
cause he knew that the flat was now in the occupation of Dr 
Ubaldo Cipolla, who had helped Monsignor O'Flaherty to obtain 
it in the first place, and had allowed it to be registered in his name, 
but subsequently, we discovered, had worked as a secret agent 
for the Germans. 

Renzo Lucidi had another reason to be astonished. For a long 
time after Pottak's arrest we had been unable to get any news of 
him at all, and when at last we did it was to the effect that he 
had been shot as a spy. 

In the eight weeks since we last saw him the little Cypriot, 



IDES OF MARCH l6l 

whom I had once suspected of treachery, had gone through some 
incredible adventures, and they had taken their toll savagely upon 
him. When he was returned to Sulmona with the Italian girl, 
Iride, after his arrest on January 6, Pollak was shocked to find 
that all the principal Italian helpers of escapers in Sulmona were 
in custody, for the Australian medical orderly, who had posed as 
an R.A.M.C. captain, had made a thorough job of his denuncia- 
tions. This man, picked up drunk and subsequently plied with 
more drink, cigarettes, and other creature comforts, had led his 
German captors systematically from billet to billet. Every 'cell 9 
known to the Australian fell, and many of our escapers, as well 
as more than a dozen Italian families, were arrested, with his 
wine-fuddled co-operation. 

Pollak, heavily implicated in a statement by Iride as the man 
who had distributed money to the billets, claimed he had been 
carrying out instructions by a British officer whose name he did 
not know, but he ran up against an unexpected difficulty in that 
he was unable to establish his own identity as a prisoner-of-war. 
The Germans, realizing that he was not English, accused him of 
being a Jew (which, to the Nazis, was a capital offence), and beat 
him up several times, leaving him without blankets or heating in 
a cold cell, where, not surprisingly, he contracted pneumonia. 

Then Pollak was charged with being a traitor and a spy, and 
the firing-squad seemed inevitable, but on the way to the court 
he passed a group of British prisoners-of-war, who were being 
marched to the gaol. Among them he recognized an officer he had 
known at Chieti camp, and, in the nick of time, succeeded in 
establishing his prisoner-of-war identity. He was merely sentenced 
to be returned to a prison camp. 

At the same court three of our Italian helpers from Sulmona 
were sentenced to death, several others were deported to Germany, 
where their expectation of life would be little more favourable, and 
all the rest were sent to prison. Fortunately, the three men who 
had received the ultimate sentence all managed to escape before 
the Germans could carry it out. 

Joe Pollak was among several who escaped when, at the very 
moment they were being loaded on to a train bound for Ger- 
many, the R.A.F. chose to bomb the station, and with a com- 
panion he turned his footsteps at once to Rome. 

Using his excellent Italian, Pollak organized a lift in the back 



l62 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

of a lorry, and all went well until they reached the road-block 
outside Rome. Pollak slipped over the side as the lorry halted, and 
crawled underneath, but his companion was promptly discovered 
by the guards, who did not take long to come to the conclusion 
that he was British. Two armed soldiers were put aboard as escorts, 
and the hapless driver was told to set off for the nearest German 
barracks. Pollak was clinging to the underside of the lorry, and 
could not let go without immediately attracting the attention of 
the road-block guards, so he hung on painfully until it slowed 
almost to a halt at the sharp turn into the barracks, and then 
gratefully released his frozen grip. Picking himself up, he walked 
on into Rome. 

Believing that the calamity in which he was involved on 
January 6 had been confined to Sulmona, and knowing nothing 
of the Rome disaster of January 8, he was completely unaware 
of the changes that had occurred. It was therefore natural for 
him to make his way to the Via Chelini flat, and give the familiar 
secret ring on the doorbell, expecting to be welcomed by Bruno 
Biichner, or Herta. He was alarmed when he found that the 
apartment contained nobody he knew, and was occupied by the 
plump Dr Cipolla and his Russian-born wife, but there was no 
turning back, so he told them frankly who he was. 

Surprised, but not put out, they invited him in. Pollak was in 
luck because his sudden appearance was the answer to Dr 
Cipolla's prayer, for the doctor saw in Joe a means of getting back 
on to good terms with the British Organization. We had gone to 
great pains so satisfy ourselves that he had revealed nothing of the 
little he knew about us to the Gestapo, and had been in no way 
responsible for the raiding of the Via Chelini flat. Cipolla, in fact, 
sought to be a double-agent, working for friends on both sides, so 
that he was safe while the Germans remained in Rome, yet with 
something to plead in his favour when they were evicted. 

He treated Pollak with generosity and consideration, telling 
him repeatedly that he was anxious to do anything he could to 
help British escapers an anxiety doubtless strengthened by the 
rumble of Anzio gunfire, which occasionally rattled the windows 
of his home. However, it was with some misgiving that Renzo 
Lucidi agreed to Joe's request to take a new suit to the apartment 
of frightening memories, and when he left he carefully side- 
tracked Cipolla's friendly inquiries about their destination. 



IDES OF MARCH 163 

Pollak's somewhat rash descent upon the Via Chelini flat had 
given the Rome Organization at least one useful piece of informa- 
tion we knew exactly where Dr Cipolla stood. From what I 
knew of the character of the man, I was sure that whatever help 
he gave to the Germans in other directions, he would not risk 
certain retribution by revealing any information about the or- 
ganization, so I kept in touch with him, and made use of him in 
many small ways. The situation intrigued me no end : it was 
the only time I ever had a known German agent on my staff. 

Pollak was moved to one of our safest billets under the care of 
Lieutenant Simpson, and I authorized payment to him at the 
'staff rate* of 200 lire a day, made up his back pay, including the 
sum of his own money, which he had lost when he was arrested, 
and ordered that he should lie low for at least a fortnight. 

I wanted Pollak to be kept out of the way until I had made 
quite certain that there would be no double-crossing by Dr 
Cipolla, but there was, in fact, a much stronger reason, which 
I did not know at the time, for Pollak to rest : his pneumonia 
had turned to tuberculosis. 

When Simpson and Furman realized that his condition was 
serious they suggested that he should be smuggled into the 
Vatican, but I knew that this course would ultimately amount 
to handing Pollak over to the Germans. "Getting him into the 
Vat. would not help in the least," I explained, "because when 
people are sick here they are sent out into Rome nursing-homes. 
If he really has T.B. I would strongly recommend Switzerland. 
The chaps there are having a hell of a fine time. It would mean 
the end of the war before he could get home, but he would stand 
a good chance of getting cured." 

The two lieutenants agreed that this course and it was one 
which we could organize with little difficulty was the best, but 
Pollak settled the issue by proving to be as stubborn as Private 
Anderson had been. He flatly refused to accept medical attention 
if it meant his removal from the war. 

"No, thanks," he said. "If I am only fit to work one day a 
week I shall do more good here than I would in Switzerland. 
Anyway, it can't be for long now." 

With both front lines completely static, I was not so certain, but 
I would not consider ordering Pollak to leave Rome against his 
own inclination. Besides, I could understand his determination 



164 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

to remain on active service at all costs. After being beaten 
up several times and left to freeze by the Germans, he had a 
personal score to settle. On the other hand, it was clear that he 
was quite unable to take over responsibility for a complete group 
of billets, so I instructed Furman and Simpson to use him as an 
assistant whenever he was fit, and to see that he was well looked 
after whenever he was ill. Pollak was content with this arrange- 
ment, and willingly dragged his weakened body about the streets 
of Rome, but there were many occasions when he was confined 
to his bed for long periods. 

Most of the escapers had no knowledge of the existence of the 
organization, and sometimes the admirable caution exercised by 
new arrivals was so extreme that we were quite unable to establish 
contact with them. On one occasion Lieutenant Simpson spent 
days searching in vain for a group of Americans, who had sent 
out a call for assistance by such devious and circumspect channels 
that he never could trace it back. 

Another time Renzo Lucidi wasted a valuable day searching 
for an American-born Jugoslav whom I was already watching 
fairly closely because I had a suspicion that he had appropriated 
for his own use money collected ostensibly for a group hiding 
some distance outside Rome. I had no idea that Renzo Lucidi 
was looking for this dubious character until Lieutenant Simpson 
wrote: 

I enclose a photograph of this American, who is supposed to 
be suffering from appendicitis. "Rinso" traced him as far as a hotel 
in Rome, and he had apparently left a few days before. Do you 
know anything about him? 

Yes, I know all about him and his location [I replied at once]. 
We can do nothing for him at present as the U.S. Legation will 
not accept him until he is checked by the Swiss. He has had clothes 
from us and, I rather think, cash that was intended for the 
country. 

I was only interested in his appendix [replied Simpson laconic- 
ally]. 

If some escapers were difficult to find, others were a good deal 
too conspicuous for our liking. The diminutive Lieutenant Fur- 
man, who could always pass in an Italian crowd, even with his 



IDES OF MARCH 165 

red hair and moustache, had a particular aversion to guiding big, 
blond, obviously British types through the busy streets. He was 
never more shattered than when he answered a message from 
Monsignor O'Flaherty to pick up a couple of new arrivals, and 
found himself face to face, in St Peter's Square, with two vast six- 
footers a guardsman named Bensley and a highlander named 
McBride. Both would have been conspicuous enough in conven- 
tional clothes, and in the ragged and tattered remains of their 
prison-camp dress they could hardly fail to attract attention. 

Shuddering, Furman led them to the tram stop, and then, de- 
ciding that he could not face a ride in such spectacular company, 
changed his mind and hailed a carrozza. As they jolted off in the 
cab, Furman, feeling that every eye in Rome was turning towards 
them, wondered if he had done the right thing, and his heart 
sank as he observed two mounted policemen trotting up behind 
them. Wordlessly, he motioned to his companions to remain 
silent, and, for a heart-thumping age, watched warily as the 
policemen drew gradually closer. They were almost up to the 
carozza when suddenly they wheeled smartly into a side-street 
and were gone, entirely disinterested in the two tattered giants 
and their dapper little companion. At the billet he had arranged 
for them Funnan found another shock awaiting him, for the door 
was locked, and there was nobody at home. He had to leave 
Bensley and McBride standing conspicuously outside, in full view 
of inquisitive passers-by, while he went off in search of the 'pad- 
rone,' and it was with astonishment that on his return with the 
Italian he found them still there, stoic and unmolested. 

"Taking Bensley and McBride through Rome," an exhausted 
Furman reported to me later, "is like carrying a Union Jack in 
each hand." 

Lieutenant Simpson also was having his moments. Leaving 
Monsignor O'Flaherty's office one day, he found himself walk- 
ing through the colonnades towards a bearded, uniformed Fas- 
cist, whom he recognized at once as the man who had been the 
despised adjutant at the Chieti prison camp. The Fascist was 
walking slowly with a pretty woman, and Simpson stepped in 
front of them, stuck out his hand, and announced in Italian, 
"Remember me ? I was one of your guests at Chieti." 

Dumbfounded, the Fascist ignored the proffered hand, stared 
at the British officer a smart, confident figure, very unlike the 



l66 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

ragged subaltern he remembered and then exploded. "We are 
enemies, you know. What makes you think I shall not have you 
arrested immediately ?" 

"You are an officer and a gentleman," Simpson replied blandly. 
"You could never bring yourself to take advantage of a social 
meeting like this." 

He had judged his man's conceit shrewdly. The Fascist, acutely 
conscious of the eyes of his pretty companion upon him, con- 
trolled his anger with a visible effort, and jutted out his bearded 
chin. 

"Don't be too sure of yourself. If I were you," he said, playing 
his r61e of officer and gentleman carefully, "I should exercise a 
little caution in future." 

"No doubt you are right," replied Simpson, turning away. "I 
should pick my acquaintances with greater care." 

This incident was not reported to me at the time, for Lieutenant 
Simpson knew well enough what would have been my reaction 
to such an unnecessary risk, taken by the only one of my military 
assistants who had so far managed to avoid recapture. 

On the whole, however, it seemed that with Furman and Pollak 
back in Rome, we had entered into a fairly satisfactory period. 
There were no raids on billets, there was a steady stream of 
supplies to escapers, and we successfully developed one or two 
'sidelines.' 

Among these was the establishment of contact with Allied 
prisoners-of-war in hospitals in and around Rome. Their numbers 
had been increasing since the Anzio landings, and they were under 
direct German guard, so there was little we could do to help 
them escape, even had they been physically capable of making 
the attempt, but we were able to smuggle cigarettes and other 
small luxuries in to them. Thanks mainly to Brother Robert Pace, 
whose own Order ran one of the hospitals used as casualty clear- 
ing stations, we were fully informed of the arrival and condition 
of all wounded Allied prisoners-of-war, and were able, not only 
to distribute comforts, but to send news of their safety to their 
next of kin. 

We also contrived, chiefly through the expenditure of more 
than 6000 lire in bribes, to establish contact with most of the 
recaptured escapers held in the Regina Coeli, the Forte Boccea, 
and other prisons in Rome, and we managed to get parcels of 



IDES OF MARCH 167 

food, clothing, and money which we knew, from Furman's ex- 
perience, could be put to good use through to most of them. 
"Sorry we didn't think of it while you were inside," I told Fur- 
man. 

Things were going so smoothly that even if I had studied the 
calendar more closely I should not have thought that after nearly 
two thousand years it was still necessary to "beware the Ides of 
March." But on March 15, 1944, there were three grim portents 
of trouble. 

There was nothing ominous about the first : the mass bombing 
of the mountain monastery of Monte Cassino. The town of Cas- 
sino had been the anchor of the stubborn German defence line 
in the south throughout the long winter, and above it, massive, 
unapproachable, and impregnable, perched the great monastery, 
overlooking the whole of the Allied lines west of the mountains. 
To what extent it had been fortified by the Germans was un- 
certain, but it was a unique observation-post, and its effect on 
the morale of the troops was depressive. Every concentration and 
every move they attempted was in the conscious knowledge that 
the great stone vulture hanging in the sky above them had its 
beady eyes fixed firmly on what they were doing. It was therefore 
no surprise to any member of the Allied forces when, on the 
return of bombers' weather, every available aircraft unloaded 
high explosive on to Cassino and its forbidding monastery, and 
the men in the line must have felt a curious relief as the stone- 
clad mountain-top disappeared in the smoke of more than a 
thousand tons of bombs. 

But the raid was a psychological disaster from the point of view 
of the Rome Organization. All our Italian helpers were good 
Catholics, who had always thought of Allied bombing as being 
directed against specific military objectives, although they ap- 
preciated that damage might be done to other property in the 
process, and they could not understand how a Catholic monas- 
tery, still occupied by its monks, could be a military objective. 
Our priests were placed in a particularly delicate position, and it 
took all the tact and persuasion of which Lieutenants Furman and 
Simpson were capable to assuage the doubts of loyal Italian 
helpers, who had never before questioned the morality of any 
action taken by the Allies. 

The second omen on March 15 was the unexpected death of a 



l68 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

member of the administrative staff who was in good health, and 
in no danger from the Germans. Sub-Lieutenant R. C. Elliott, 
a young naval officer, who was one of the first four Britishers 
interned at the Vatican, where he celebrated his twenty-first birth- 
day, had been working as principal assistant to Captain Byrnes, 
on our records. 

But he was a survivor of one of the most terrible experiences 
that can befall a man in war, and night after night, in the relative 
security of the Vatican, he relived in vivid nightmares his des- 
perate struggle to escape from a submarine plunging to its doom 
after being torpedoed in the Mediterranean. In the small hours 
of March 15, rushing from his bed in a nightmare panic, he 
crashed through the window, and fell three storeys to his death 
on the flagstones below. He was the only internee to die within the 
city throughout the war, and the Vatican authorities arranged 
an impressive funeral. I could not help thinking, as I sadly 
watched the cortege pass, that if tragedy could strike so suddenly 
at those of us in safety, then the lives of those who walked with 
danger in Rome hung, indeed, on a slender thread. 

The third portent of that ominous day was more clearly a 
threat to the organization. I received a warning that an Italian 
named Grossi, who had helped us in a small way on one or two 
occasions, had been seen working with the Fascists. Although his 
denunciation had not so far seemed to be connected with us, I was 
fearful that he might know some of the Italian families providing 
billets. I was especially afraid that he might, through her own 
lack of caution, get on to Mrs Chevalier, whose tiny flat had once 
again been pressed back into service. I immediately informed 
Lieutenants Furman and Simpson of Grossi's liaison with the 
Fascists, but was relieved to learn that they already knew about 
it, and had taken precautions. 

To Simpson, who was responsible for Mrs Chevalier, I wrote : 

"Mrs M." is a wonderful woman but no idea of security. It 
is essential that Grossi does not know that we know of his 
activities. My suggestion is that "Mrs M.'s" is used as little as 
possible for permanent places; also, if possible, she should not be 
told the exact position of permanent places. 

"Mrs M.," etc., are fully aware of this gentleman's recent 
activities, and are on guard [Simpson replied]. "Mrs M." has had 



IDES OF MARCH l6g 

five people staying with her for about ten days now, and because 
of new arrivals I have not been able to reduce the number so 
far. 

Denunciation by somebody on the fringe of the organization 
was the threat I feared most, and I had all Grossi's movements 
observed as closely as possible. In our sort of work, to be fore- 
warned was half the victory, but I did not want Grossi to suspect 
that we were watching him, because I thought it possible that he, 
like Dr Cipolla, was playing some sort of double game, and I did 
not intend to risk putting him wholly against us. 

But I never foresaw that the causes of a coming crisis for the 
Rome Organization were a bogus priest and a bomb in a rubbish 
cart. 



10 



Denunciation 



BY mid-March the Rome Organization was big business. The 
total number of escapers and evaders on our books had risen in 
less than three weeks by 800 to 3423, and the number in Rome 
itself had gone up by sixty to 1 80. 

Our operations on the black market were so immense, it is 
not improbable that we were a primary factor in the farcical 
breakdown of the Roman official rationing system. Apart from 
our constant search for food, we were always on the lookout 
for clothing, since the supply of surplus garments given by 
Italian helpers had by now dried up almost completely. Our 
expenditure on the black-market clothing rose from 107,000 
lire in January to 157,000 lire in February and to 187,000 lire 
in March. 

'Customers' now included 400 Russian escapers, to whom help 
was being channelled through a Russian priest, Father Dorotheo 
Bezchctnoff, appointed by Monsignor O'Flaherty, and assisted 
by two Russian women who had formerly served in the Red 
Cross. During March this group was joined by a lieutenant- 
colonel, who sent a charmingly worded message of thanks to 
the organization for all the help that his countrymen had 
received. 

As the total numbers swelled, so the financial burden increased, 
but it was eased to some extent by the departure of two or three 
hundred who, as the winter reached its peak, found their moun- 
tain hides in the north of the country no longer tenable, and made 
their way over the border into Switzerland. Others joined the 
armed bands of Italian guerillas, gradually being formed behind 
the German lines, who were adequately supplied with money, 
clothing, and food of their own. At least one group outside Rome 
made itself financially independent by negotiating a large loan 
from local industrialists. 

With the organization generally going along so smoothly, it 
was irksome as well as distressing whenever any escaper was re- 
captured, although less alarming than the arrest of an Italian 



DENUNCIATION 1JI 

hdper or 'padrone/ whose life in German hands was not likely 
to be worth much, but I was especially annoyed when one par- 
ticular officer was taken. 

Captain Milner was the last of our Roman residents I would 
have expected to be captured, because he had never given us 
cause for a moment's concern. Because of his very English ap- 
pearance and almost complete lack of understanding of Italian, 
he had been warned at the outset that it would be dangerous for 
him and those who helped him if he ventured out, despite the 
fact that his billet was most uncongenial. 

He never complained, but eventually it became clear that he 
was unhappy, and when a vacancy occurred we arranged to move 
him. This time his luck was in, for we had found him the luxury 
flat of a glamorous Italian film actress, Flora Volpini. Two or 
three days later, bounding with joy and new confidence, he set 
off on his first lone outing to his former billet, to pay off a debt 
of a few thousand lire. But he never arrived, and he never re- 
turned to his new home. Swiss contacts discovered that he was 
languishing in the Regina Coeli, where he had been taken after 
walking slap into a routine police check. There was nothing we 
could do for him beyond smuggling the usual comforts into the 
prison, but it seemed a pity for his splendid billet to be wasted, so 
Lieutenant Simpson packed his bag, and moved in. 

The capture of the captain was unfortunate, but the next blow 
landed on our most vulnerable point : the priests. On March 16 
Brother Robert Pace went to a village on the outskirts of Rome 
to collect a couple of escapers who were to be taken straight to a 
billet. "Whitebows," as usual, accomplished his mission with 
success, but as he introduced them to their hosts, Andrea Casadi 
and Vittorio Fantini, the two 'escapers,' instead of extending their 
hands in greeting, pulled out ugly revolvers. They were Gestapo 
agents. 

Brother Robert and the two Italians knew that they were 
trapped. They were marched at pistol point through the streets 
of Rome to die headquarters of the Gestapo, in Via Tasso a 
place more dreaded than even the worst of Rome's notorious 
prisons, as it was the undisputed centre of the fine art of torture. 
They were separated, and eight days later the two Italians were 
shot. Brother Robert knew only too well what this meant, for the 
survivor, from whom the Gestapo aimed to extract information, 



172 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

could expect only inhuman torture right up to, but never beyond, 
the point of death. 

He thought little of his chance of survival, but stuck doggedly 
to his story that he had received a request from a village priest to 
guide two people to an address in Rome, and had naturally, and 
without question, agreed to render this small service to a brother 
in the Church. He also pointed out that he was well known to 
his captors' military superiors in Rome, and this registered on 
Teutons well trained in subservience to senior rank. As a result, 
"Whitebows" was allowed to send a message to the superior at his 
Mother house a school now being used as a casualty clearing 
station. 

At the hospital Brother Robert had provided little gifts and 
comforts for the wounded Germans with the same unselfish 
generosity that he had shown towards Allied prisoners. The Ger- 
man army therefore thought highly of him, and indicated that 
they would like to see him back as soon as possible. Doubtfully, 
the Gestapo allowed him to return to his Mother house for the 
time being, but warned him that he was likely at any rate to be 
recalled for further "questioning." We all realized that the Ges- 
tapo, frustrated for the moment, would continue their investiga- 
tions, so it was agreed that the time had come for Brother Robert 
to 'disappear.' Thus, although a life was saved, the organization 
lost yet another of its most valuable helpers. 

But it was the bomb in the rubbish cart that really made things 
difficult. The various Communist underground organizations in 
Rome had shown gallantry and initiative on many occasions, but 
we never saw quite eye to eye. They constantly derided the idea 
of giving help to escaped prisoners-of-war, and insisted that the 
proper function of all enemies of the German Reich was sabo- 
tage. The destruction by our own men of the railway viaduct 
had provided one painful example of the disadvantages of blow- 
ing things up, but another even more spectacular lesson was to 
come. 

The Communists kept a dose eye on everything done by the 
Germans, and their plans were frequently assisted by the Teutonic 
characteristic of uniformity and routine. In Rome, as elsewhere, 
the Germans insisted on doing everything in exactly the same way 
at the same time day after day, and it did not take the Com- 
munists long to discover that at two o'clock every afternoon a 



DENUNCIATION 173 

large squad of German soldiers marched down the Via Rasella 
on their way to the bath-house. 

When the grey column tramped along the street on March 22 
it passed an unattended rubbish cart, which at a glance looked 
innocent if unsavoury, but which, in fact, contained a bomb care- 
fully constructed and placed there by the Communists. The Ger- 
mans, as usual, were absolutely punctual, and so was the timing 
mechanism devised by the saboteurs. At the instant that the 
column came abreast of the rubbish cart, the giant time-bomb 
went off with a shattering roar. 

The cart vaporized, window-glass clattered to the ground from 
end to end of the smoke-filled street, and, like flotsam on the edge 
of a sudden wave, bodies and bits of bodies were spread in a 
bloody, groaning semicircle. The explosion had caught the Ger- 
mans absolutely in the centre of the passing column, and the result 
was indescribable chaos. Thirty-two of the Germans were killed 
outright or died soon afterwards, and most of the survivors had 
some form of injury. 

I had known nothing in advance of this devastating operation, 
though aware few in Rome could fail to be that the various 
Communist groups made a practice of letting off small explosions 
regularly throughout the city. The first news within an hour of 
the big bang in Via Rasella was somewhat garbled, but, even 
allowing for exaggeration, I could see that this time our Com- 
munist associates had achieved more than usual. 

It was, of course, a most effective piece of sabotage, for even 
an Allied bomber, while perhaps doing more widespread dam- 
age, could scarcely have expected to write off a larger number 
of German troops in a single blow. But I had the suspicion that 
this was the sort of blow that would turn into a boomerang, for 
although the Germans were frequently confused by the destruction 
of property, they always retaliated sharply when German life 
was destroyed, usually on the principle of half a dozen eyes for 
an eye, and I was anxious. My official responsibility was for the 
Allied escapers and evaders directly under my command, but I 
felt even more strongly my moral responsibility for the lives of the 
Italians who were looking after them; a recaptured escaper still 
had a reasonable chance of survival, despite his civilian clothing, 
but an Italian arrested on any pretext at the present time was 
virtually doomed. 



174 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

I decided to reduce evidence for Germans making round-ups 
and minimize the risk of re-arrests by emptying all billets as far 
as possible. Our messengers were sent scurrying about Rome, and 
before the blood had been swabbed from the Via Rasella, dozens 
of ex-prisoners had already moved out of their billets into in- 
adequate temporary hiding-places, in parks and public gardens. 
The men for whom I was responsible were uncomfortable and in 
considerable risk of recapture, but the homes of their 'padrones' 
were innocent again. 

If anything I underestimated the lengths to which the Ger- 
mans would go. Their immediate reaction was as I had expected: 
they brought the curfew hour forward to half-past five in the 
evening, and enforced it rigidly, shooting first, and asking ques- 
tions afterwards. I had surmised that the next step would be an 
intensified series of raids and round-ups, followed by the beating- 
ups and shootings, which had become the hallmark of Kultur, 
and I was surprised when no reports flooded in of families roughly 
shaken awake in the middle of the night, and carted off to the 
dungeons. Instead, the Germans revealed another form of retribu- 
tion, and it was a horrible object lesson in ice-cold inhumanity. 

Indiscriminately, from the prisons of the city, they took ten 
prisoners for every soldier killed in the bombing a motley mis- 
cellany of political prisoners and prostitutes, outspoken journa- 
lists and unthinking juveniles, pilferers and petty offenders, many 
of whom had faced no trial, and some of whom knew not with 
what they were charged. Their hands tied behind their backs, 
the 320 prisoners were taken through the streets of Rome to the 
Ardeatine Caves, at Domitilla. There they were bundled in 
batches into the forbidding cavern entrances, and mown down 
by machine-gun fire. The terrible slaughter lasted through several 
hours of the grim night : hours during which those who were to 
die stood impotcntly, and watched their comrades fall. 

When the hot barrels of the machine-guns were silent at last 
the Germans placed land-mines in the rock, and blew in the 
entrance to the caves, presumably to save the trouble of burial, 
but possibly to prevent Italians from recovering the bodies, and 
perhaps getting help to any who might have escaped death. 
That some did survive the savage machine-gunning was proved 
later, when post-mortem examinations revealed dust inhaled into 
the lungs. They had been entombed alive. 



DENUNCIATION 175 

Piecing reports together with growing horror, I was acutely 
conscious that more than forty of our escapers and Italian helpers 
had been in the prisons when the Germans selected (if such a word 
can be used without irony) their hostages, and I put all available 
contacts to work on the task of ascertaining who had been the 
victims of the barbaric butchery. When the position clarified we 
knew that five of our Italian helpers had perished, including the 
gallant radio-operator, Umberto Losena, who had given such 
tremendous help to me during my first few weeks in Rome, and 
who had been in the Regina Coeli ever since his arrest. 

German security forces in the city were substantially 
strengthened, and as many as 2000 extra S.S. and security men 
were brought into Rome. Enemies swarmed everywhere, seem- 
ingly armed to the teeth, and never alone, doubling the danger 
of the work of all our agents, and making any violation of the 
curfew, however small, completely impossible. 

The worst development of all was the return to prominence 
of the most vicious elements of the Italian Fascist movement, who 
were formed into a special security gang, with full German sup- 
port, and powers overriding those of the police and the Republi- 
can Guard (which the military governors knew very well would, 
in the main, go over at the first opportunity to the Allied cause). 
This Fascist neo-Gestapo, answerable to no judicial authority, and 
consisting largely of brutal, sadistic morons, rapidly established 
itself as the most terrifying body in Rome. It set up its head- 
quarters in a block of flats, and within a week all the other tenants, 
unable to stand the screams of the victims of its 'interrogations, 5 
quit the building. 

I realized that the sudden increase in the tempo of enemy 
activity was not aimed at the capture of Allied escapers, but at 
the destruction of the Italian and other subversive movements, 
which were a growing threat to German rule, but we had so much 
in common with their organizations, and, indeed, overlapped at 
so many points, that a search for one was only too likely to un- 
earth the secrets of the other. 

The number of visits made by our agents to the billets and to 
the Vatican was therefore reduced to the minimum, and orders 
went out to all 'cells' for detailed evacuation drill, under which 
the escapers were, in the event of any large-scale scare, to try 
to make their way to the age-old catacombs of Rome. We 



176 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

gave them directions for entering and equally important not 
getting lost in the fabulous complex of subterranean tunnels, in 
which, I knew, a whole army could be hidden if necessary; 
the catacombs had served the early Christians well enough 
against the heathen Romans centuries before, and now offered 
similar protection to the Allied men against an enemy no less 
pagan. 

Conditions for our work became more and more difficult as 
the Germans and Fascists started rounding up all males between 
the ages of fifteen and seventy for forced labour, ostensibly to 
prepare earthwork defences north of Rome, but more probably, 
I thought, to reduce the number of potential enemies in the city, 
and to move any who might be subversive agents as far away as 
possible from the front line. The priests were still relatively safe 
from seizure, but few others could walk safely on the streets unless 
in possession of formidable documents, and during the long hours 
of curfew searches and round-ups by the S.S. and the Fascists 
became more and more frequent. 

Unexpectedly, just as the Via Rasella bombshell had been a 
boomerang against the Roman underground, even more un- 
expectedly the Ardeatine massacre proved a boomerang for the 
Germans. The Fascist neo-Gestapo, who went about their bestial 
business with sadistic satisfaction, were by no means typical of 
their race : for the most part the cold, calculated cruelty of the 
Germans, which the Fascists aped, was something wholly foreign 
to the passionate, volatile, yet essentially warm-hearted Italian 
nature. As a people, the Italians never cared much for the Ger- 
mans; during the occupation of Rome they learned to dislike them 
actively, and after the Ardeatine massacre their dislike turned to 
a glowing, loathing hatred. Many Italians who had found it ex- 
pedient to collaborate, now turned their backs on the Germans, 
and many more who had barely tolerated them now sought means 
of working against them. Outside the Fascist gang there were few 
Italians left who looked upon the expected Allied entry into Rome 
as merely the substitution of one occupying force by another. It 
was a hoped-for, prayed-for day, which would be a day of libera- 
tion. 

In this atmosphere the Rome Organization found itself many 
new and valuable helpers men and women who cared nothing 
about the small sums of money we distributed or the black-market 



DENUNCIATION 177 

supplies that we could organize, but wanted only to do some- 
thing active against the hated Germans. 

Despite the value of this extra help, however, the most valuable 
assistance that came my way was a strictly commercial proposi- 
tion, and possibly the best bit of business the Rome Organization 
ever did. 

"Know the Questura?" asked John May one day, his eyes 
creased by an expansive grin. 

"Of course though I've no wish to make close acquaintance 
with it," I replied. "You mean the headquarters of the S.S. and 
the Fascist Carabinieri?" 

"How would you like to get hold of their routine orders when 
they come out?" he asked. "I think I've found a way of laying 
hands on those orders." 

"Now, John," I expostulated, "I'd be the first to agree that 
you're a bloody marvel, but you arc now talking through your 
elegant hat." 

John May explained. "I'm in touch with a chap name of 
Giuseppe who says he's got a pal working in some sort of clerical 
capacity in the Questura. Betwen them they're prepared to float 
an extra copy of the gen from the routine orders in our direction. 
They will, of course, expect rather more than thanks." 

"How much?" 

"A thousand lire a time." 

We discussed the idea, but the only thing holding me back was 
that I was too old to believe in fairies any more. My most op- 
timistic plans had never contemplated a sight of the Questura's 
routine orders, but John May and I hammered out details of a 
roundabout route for reports to reach us with the minimum risk 
to our informant and ourselves. I had little hope of getting any- 
thing at all, let alone something useful, but when a report ap- 
peared a couple of days later my surprise at receiving a return 
for my money soon gave way to astonishment and delight at its 
contents : for this was indeed a full and detailed transcript of 
the S.S. and Fascist orders most affecting us in the Rome Or- 
ganization. In addition to information about the general activities 
of the security forces, the report also listed the areas in Rome 
on which the authorities, with their customary insistence on com- 
mitting all plans to paper, intended to make 'surprise raids' within 
the next two or three nights. 



178 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

"This is terrific," I enthused to John May. "If your boys are 
going to produce this sort of thing they're underpaid." 

I told him that if his little friends had wanted to take us for a 
ride they wouldn't have filled their first report with stuff that 
could manifestly be proved to be true or false within a few hours. 
Anyway, I cleared the billets in the danger areas, knowing that 
we should soon find out where the Questura gang had been pay- 
ing their social calls. 

Everything worked out as the report had forecast, and it was 
clear that the organization had never made a better financial in- 
vestment. We now had an inside contact with the very people 
who were searching for, and rounding up, escaped prisoners. It 
did not, of course, give us anything like complete protection, for 
the Gestapo were likely to turn up anywhere at any time, and the 
Questura orders only covered routine raids. They did not refer 
to checks resulting from a denunciation or information. But it 
was a tremendous stride forward in security, and the reports 
regularly received thereafter frequently enabled us to prevent 
recaptures and arrests by evacuating escapers from danger 
areas. 

These evacuations called for some fast thinking, since the 
routine orders and detailed raids scheduled for the same evening 
were not published until midday. Then it took time to cover the 
devious route from the Questura to the British Legation, and the 
vital information did not reach me until quite late in the after- 
noon. Orders for raids usually related to a fairly broad area, and 
I had to rush through our card-indexes and maps to find out if 
any of our 'cells' were in danger, for with the increasing number 
of new billets, and the sheer number in occupation in the city, 
there was too much detail to be committed to memory. If billets 
were found to be in danger areas there still remained the physical 
task of warning the occupants and arranging evacuations. This 
was complicated by the security precaution that any one mes- 
senger should know of no more than a handful of 'cells.' Con- 
sequently, we sometimes found that to get warnings to four or 
five billets quite close to each other, we had to trace and dispatch 
as many messengers. 

Sometimes the messengers directly concerned could not be 
contacted in time, but we never sent a neighbouring messenger 
to take warnings to 'cells* which were not in his own group. Only 



DENUNCIATION 179 

four people knew the location of all the billets: Monsignor 
O'Flaherty, Lieutenant Simpson, Captain Byrnes, and myself. 
Even Lieutenant Furman, who had taken over half Simpson's 
list since his return to Rome, did not know many of the 'cells' 
which had been established while he was away. Of the four of us, 
Byrnes and I were confined within the walls of the Vatican, and 
the monsignor could not venture beyond its immediate surround- 
ings without risk of instant arrest. So, for the second time, the 
quiet, methodical Simpson found himself the key outside-man 
of the organization. Whenever the contact-man for a threatened 
billet could not be traced at short notice it was Lieutenant Simp- 
son who had to take the warning, and one of the minor mysteries 
of the war or even minor miracles was how, when Rome 
swarmed as never before with German soldiers and security forces, 
Simpson managed to travel incessantly about the city without ever 
being stopped and questioned. 

Everything had to be done at the double, for it was now virtu- 
ally impossible to deliver messages or move escapers once the early 
curfew clamped at half past five, and public transport services 
had largely broken down. Even where in existence, they were sub- 
ject to constant scrutiny by the Germans, so some of our priests 
were now regularly covering eight or nine miles on foot in a day, 
during their routine calls on billets. 

Nevertheless, whatever the difficulties of making practical use 
of Giuseppe's reports, it was a tremendous advantage to be able 
to circulate warnings at all, and in time we had the whole com- 
plicated business of translation, pinpointing affected billets, 
selecting messengers and briefing them, boiled down to a high- 
speed drill. 

Apart from details of official orders, Giuseppe began to include 
background information, and I realized from repeated references 
to "anonymous" denouncements, that a good many of the arrests 
which had been put down to bad luck in routine checks 
might, in fact, have been due to denunciation. For example, he 
reported : 

As a result of several denunciations, the Via Merulana is being 
closely watched these days, since British and American ex- 
prisoners are reported to be hidden there. Houses will shortly be 
searched. 



l8o THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

On another occasion he wrote : 

A denouncement has arrived declaring that a coffee-house 
keeper has an English ex-prisoner under an assumed Italian name, 
who he pretends is his helper. A search by the Republican Fascists 
is imminent. 

And later : 

Another denouncement reports that a baker in the San Giovanni 
district is hiding some British and Badoglian soldiers in a walled- 
up garret. 

It was from Giuseppe that I confirmed a suspicion that the 
Germans were now sending out agents dressed as priests, who got 
in touch with British escapers, and offered help, undertaking to 
conduct them to secure hiding-places a promise which, looked 
at in one light, they often fulfilled all too thoroughly. 

Giuseppe also reported that every access to the San Roberto 
Bdlarmino Church, which was about a mile north of the ancient 
city wall, on the far side of the Rome Zoo, was being watched, as 
the Germans suspected that the priests were giving money and 
hospitality to escaped prisoners-of-war. This was particularly 
disconcerting, for the prospects were certainly poorer if the Ges- 
tapo net was beginning to tighten round Monsignor O'Flaherty's 
priests; I urged him to warn all his helpers to be on their guard, 
and, since he disliked others taking risks that he cheerfully took 
himself, the warning was passed on. 

Giuseppe's reports caused me great concern, because the de- 
tails given in denunciation were so accurate, but when they 
revealed at last the source of the betrayal it was only confirmation 
of what I already knew. 

Pale and tight-lipped, the Free French leader, De Vial, had 
told me, "That bastard, Perfetti, has gone over to the Boche." 

It was not really surprising. I had never liked the greasy Pas- 
qualino Perfetti, who wore priest's clothing though he was not a 
priest, and who had been my first contact in Rome, so I had 
allowed him to slip gradually out of the organization, although 
he had continued, for a remuneration, to find billets for the 
French. Nevertheless, the news was alarming, for Perfetti had 
been an important link in the monsignor's original organization, 
and he knew the location of too many of our present billets, as 
well as those occupied by French escapers. 



DENUNCIATION l8l 

"We knew Perfetti had been arrested/' De Vial continued, "but 
we were not too worried. We thought it was all routine. Then 
we heard that he was about again, limping heavily, and obviously 
badly battered about the head and face. And, mon Dieu, he was 
not alone. He was with the Gestapo. Sometimes in a car, some- 
times on foot, he was guiding them from place to place. We lost 
a dozen billets before we could do anything, and a lot of our 
men have been taken in by that Fascist gang, and badly beaten 
up." 

"How do you know ?" 

"One of them got away Captain Martin. He climbed down 
a drainpipe from four floors up, and ran through Rome with his 
face and clothes covered with blood. From him, we learned about 
Perfetti." 

Thus it was confirmation rather than information when 
Giuseppe's next report told me : 

I have been informed that one Pasqualino Perfetti had been 
collaborating with the Fascists and German police. He helps them 
in their searches for ex-prisoners. Before, Pasqualino Perfetti has 
helped or feigned to assist ex-prisoners-of-war. It has been con- 
firmed that he has given much information. 

By this time I had rushed urgent warnings to the billeting 
officers, and a sort of general post had begun among the under- 
ground Allies in Rome, but despite our speed, the bogus priest's 
wholesale denunciation moved faster, and half a dozen escapers 
and their c padrones' were arrested. Giuseppe's reports began to lag 
behind developements, filling in details of known disasters, rather 
than providing warnings, but they were still valuable. For 
example : 

The German police have arrested the lawyer, Eramo, who had 
very generously helped ex-prisoners and Badoglian soldiers [he 
wrote]. He is imprisoned in die prison of the Via Tasso. It appears 
that he was betrayed by Don Pasqualino Perfetti, who had been 
in contact with Eramo over the financing of the above-mentioned 
soldiers. Arrested himself some time ago, Perfetti has given the 
addresses of all those in hiding, accompanying the German police 
in their searches. Without a doubt, Perfetti now works for the 
Germans. 



l8? THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Perfetti's perfidy had gone beyond the bounds of an under- 
standable breakdown under torture. From Captain Martin and 
other sources, the French learned that Perfetti not merely 
guided the Germans from house to house, but at each gave the 
secret signal on the bell, and held the door open while the Ger- 
mans burst in, so that there was no hope of escape for the ex- 
prisoners. 

I was hoping that we had been able to clear most of the billets 
known to Perfetti from earlier days, but the scope of his denuncia- 
tions became evident when Lieutenant Furman, after a frantic 
couple of days, reported on March 26 : 

Du Toit : I enclose this man's identity card. Du Toit was Pas- 
qualino's escaper; he was picked up with Ireland, who had only 
been at the billet a few days. Matthews must be considered taken; 
he went away from his billet and hasn't returned. Flynn and 
Wynn have been taken. Macdougal, I hear, has been taken; one 
of Pasqualino's, I believe. 

Perfetti's treachery caused us grievous losses. By the end of 
March twenty-one escapers had been recaptured, and more than 
a dozen Italian helpers arrested. We tightened up on security in 
every possible direction, and to reduce the amount of incriminat- 
ing paper floating around Rome, I ordered that no further re- 
ceipts should be collected from people to whom money was 
given. Sir D'Arcy Osborne gave authority for the reports written 
by Lieutenants Simpson and Furman, in the comparative safety 
of Monsignor 'Flaherty's office, to be accepted as sufficient 
acknowledgment for the vast amount of British Government cash 
now passing through our hands. 

Yet, even at a time of high drama, it was impossible to forget 
the trivial problems of my work, as "the pay bloke" to use the 
term given me by Simpson. While reporting on the arrest of Du 
Toit and Ireland, Lieutenant Furman also pointed out : 

The elderly lady who looked after them wants to make some 
claim in respect of Du Toit I don't think she really expects to 
get all she has put down, but I might mention that Du Toit 
was wearing a watch of her husband's, and also she bought 
an accordion for 5000 lire, which Du Toit said he would pay 
personally. 



DENUNCIATION 183 

I had financial troubles enough, without trying to extract pay- 
ment for a wrist-watch and an accordion from the British Govern- 
ment, but I had already foreseen this sort of development, and 
was devoting most of my spare moments to planning the establish- 
ment of some sort of commission, which, after the Allied entry 
into Rome, would be able to sift and settle the claims of aU 
Italians who had suffered loss through their help to the organiza- 
tion. So I told Furman : 

I suggest you give her a couple of thousand lire, and tell her 
that we have got all her details for the commission, which will 
investigate and deal with all claims. But, anyway, I should think 
she would be able to get a good price for the accordion. . . . 

As March turned to April, it seemed that the crisis had passed. 
The cold blue of the sky took on a gentler, golden mantle, setting 
aglow the great ruined temples, sending melted snow coursing 
under the seventeen Tiber bridges, and clothing the boughs and 
branches beyond my windows with bud and blossom. Nowhere in 
the world could have been more beautiful than Rome in the spring 
of that year, and as I looked out from the safety of my comfortable 
prison, I felt a new hope. Better weather would surely hasten the 
liberation, and now that the leak which had brought such tragic 
results had been stopped, I hoped to preserve the freedom of those 
anticipating reunion with their comrades. 

I started to breathe easily again but out in the beautiful city 
Lieutenant John Furman was aghast. He had been discussing Per- 
f etti's perfidy with his young assistant, Gino Giuliani, the son of 
his 'padrone,' and quite casually, as though it were of no import- 
ance, the youth mentioned that he knew the betrayer. Furman 
elicited that Perf etti also knew Gino was helping us, and that at 
least one of the billets which Gino had provided for Furman's 
escapers had been passed on to him by Perf etti. 

Lieutenant Furman acted promptly, evacuating the billet which 
was known to be in danger, and moving his own quarters to his 
reserve billet, in the home of a widowed countess. He advised his 
'padrone,' Romeo Giuliani, to take his family away, but the little 
clerk would not hear of moving, although Gino agreed to go and 
stay with his young friend, Memo, who also had occasionally 
helped in the finding of billets. 

When nothing happened in three or four days Furman decided 



184 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

that the danger had passed, and returned to the Giulianis' home 
on April 5. The Fascists struck during the night of April 7, but, 
by pure chance, Furman was not there. He was attending a birth- 
day party, and because of the curfew the convention had de- 
veloped that such parties should last all night. The spare bed 
on which Gino slept whenever Furman was in the house had 
been dismantled and packed away, and there was no obvious 
sign of the tenancy of an escaped prisoner-of-war, but the 
Fascists were equipped with a detailed denunciation by Perfetti, 
and took away both Gino and his father, Romeo. After maintain- 
ing his ignorance of anything to do with British escapers all 
through a night-long interrogation, Romeo was released, but his 
son was held. 

The organization knew nothing of this new blow until Furman 
returned to his billet next day, to find it occupied only by tearful, 
haggard women, for Romeo had gone back to the Fascist head- 
quarters on his own, to find out what had happened to his son. 
Furman urged the remainder of the family to vacate their home 
at once, but again they refused to move. 

He rushed off to meet Joe Pollak, who was enjoying a brief 
spell of relatively sound health, and together they drew up a list 
of all the billets known to Gino, and worked out a plan for the 
warning of all the families involved. Several were on the tele- 
phone, and they decided to contact these before setting off to 
call on the others, but in no single case could they get a reply. 
Hearts sinking, they realized that they were already too late. Gino 
had talked. 

Abandoning their plan of separating to visit all the billets, 
they decided to go together to one for a check. The idea behind 
this dangerous but utterly unselfish plan was that if one of them 
walked into a trap the other would be able to get away, and report 
to headquarters. They made their way by tram to a billet occupied 
by Privates Groundsdl and Allen, where, while Pollak waited 
below, Furman went upstairs, and gave the secret ring on the 
doorbell. The face of the girl who answered the door was enough 
to tell him that here, also, he was too late. She told him that the 
Fascists had burst in without warning the previous night, and had 
taken away the two escapers and her father. She and her mother 
had watched the Fascists kick the three men down the long stair- 
way. 



DENUNCIATION 185 

Furman and Pollak became increasingly depressed as their in- 
vestigations continued, for of all the escapers known to Gino, they 
could find only two still safe, and these they moved at once to 
another billet. Furman, now without a home of his own, remem- 
bered with a sudden shock that although he had not given the 
address of his emergency billet to Gino, he had told him the tele- 
phone number. He rushed to the house to warn the countess and 
her two daughters that they must leave Rome at once, at least for 
a few days. 

Lieutenant Simpson, meanwhile, unaware of the latest disaster, 
had gone to the basement flat, which had been used for the past 
few weeks as the principal clearing-house, and to which Mon- 
signor O'Flaherty sent all new arrivals. He found that the Fas- 
cists had already called and dragged the 'padrone 9 away, but the 
five British escapers using the billet were still there. In the few 
moments before he opened the door, in answer to the harsh and 
unmistakable Fascist summons, the Italian (Paolino) had the 
presence of mind to bundle the five into a cellar, and push his bed 
over the trap-door entrance. The Fascists searched the flat with- 
out finding any trace of escapers or the hastily concealed trap- 
door, but they took Paolino. Since they were armed with detailed 
denunciations, they no longer needed material evidence. Simpson 
immediately moved the five escapers to other billets, and once 
again we were left without a clearing-house. 

I had sent out warnings throughout the organization as soon as 
Perfetti started out on his long trail of treachery, but the Gino 
development caught me off balance : I did not know what he 
knew about the organization, although I had a suspicion that we 
should have to write off a good proportion of the billets for which 
Furman was responsible. Furman's first written report on April 1 1, 
after a hectic period in which there was time only for brief verbal 
messages, confirmed my foreboding. 

The situation is now a little clearer [he wrote], but I'm afraid 
the clearer it gets, the blacker. Nearly all my lads have been taken, 
so it is quite clear that Gino spilled the beans. All were taken on 
Saturday between i A.M. and 5 A.M. 

Groundsell and Allen: taken together with the padrone,' Car- 
dinali. I went to the house yesterday, and saw the daughters, and 
left them 2000 lire. 

McBride and Bensley: I haven't been to the house, but have 



l86 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

phoned constantly, with never a reply, so it is fairly conclusive. 
It would seem that Renato Peoletti and his mother have both been 
taken. 

De Lisle and Gardner: I haven't been there, but the Cardinalis' 
(whose friends they are) told me the worst. I don't know which 
members of the family have been taken. Incidentally, there were 
also two Jews in hiding there, so I suppose they have been taken. 

Doug. Bennett: He must have been taken, as, again, I get no 
reply on the phone. That also means Signora Ingoramo and her 
maid. 

Memo: He also was taken on Saturday night, but I learn has 
now been released; he thinks, however, that he is being tailed. 
I shall try to make contact with him if it can be done safely. 

Countess Morosini: I stayed a few nights in this lady's house, 
and Gino knew the phone number. Accordingly, I advised her to 
move, together with her two daughters, and in view of their ex- 
penses thus entailed, I left 2000 lire with them. If you think this 
is not justifiable I'll pay it myself, but it is on our account that 
they're having to move. 

Hudd and Conlon> who were known to Gino, fortunately are 
safe, and I've shifted them. It is quite right that as soon as some 
one is taken it is necessary to assume that everything he knows 
is also known to the enemy. . . . 

This depressing list was by no means complete, and in his next 
report Furman told me that an underground agent named 
Zachan, with whom he had an appointment at the business 
premises of an Italian 'padrone/ had been arrested while in posses- 
sion of a pistol. 

Neither Z. nor his 'padrone* was there [wrote Furman, report- 
ing on his appointment], but the 'padrone's' wife was, and this is 
the story I had from her : 

At about i A.M. four Guardia Republicans came to the house, 
and gave the proper signal. They took away the 'padrone' and Z., 
who was armed. 

The 'padrone's' wife has had an interview with her husband 
at the Regina Coeli. He had a black eye, and was bruised about 
the head and face. He told her that Gino had been badly beaten 
up, and that his head was swollen like a pumpkin; also that Per- 
fetti had been badly beaten up about the body. Gino, he said, 
was now also at the Regina Coeli, and no longer at Via Principe 
(the Fascist neo-Gestapo headquarters). He confirmed that they 



DENUNCIATION 187 

seem to know everything about everything, and said they are 
particularly anxious to locate me : apparently all the 'padrones,' 
who have been taken have been asked where the English lieutenant 
who used to visit them is to be found. 

Memo, Gino's friend, who also worked for me, has been re- 
leased without apparently being beaten up; he visited this lady 
at her house, and told her that wherever he went he had two 
Fascists with him. It appears that they threatened him with death 
unless he led them to other prisoners and, it would seem, par- 
ticularly to me. However, he knows no other prisoners, so far as 
as I am aware, and I don't believe that he would give me away 
even if he saw me in the street. But I don't propose to take any 
chances. If I see him about I shall promptly put on a gallop in 
the opposite direction. 

I gave the lady 2000 lire, for which she was very grateful. I 
think it is the least we can do. 

Hudd and Conlon, the only two of his escapers that Furman 
had been able to save, were not at liberty for long : they and their 
new 'padrone' were arrested within a few days. 

"What do you put it down to?" I asked. "One of the Pas- 
qualinogang?" 

But Furman replied that he thought it a common case of de- 
nunciation. 

Three more escapers were taken in quick succession, and this 
time they were all uncomfortably close to Mrs Chevalier's 
crowded flat. 

I really am worried about her place [I warned Furman and 
Simpson]. That son of hers is such a damned chatterbox : he tells 
them practically everything at the Swiss, and we know there are 
at least two people there who get paid on results, by the Huns. 
Both of you are to keep away as much as possible from her 
flat. 

Unfortunately, Lieutenant Simpson was destined never to re- 
ceive this message. At this time he was playing with the idea of 
taking advantage of the improved weather by making an attempt 
to rejoin our forces. He had asked for permission to join in a 
scheme with others to get away by boat from the west coast. 

I had to reply, somewhat discouragingly, that none of the 
many T>oats trips* had succeeded from the west coast. 



1 88 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

The last [I wrote], cost the French nine men and 80,000 lire 
(the men being in gaol). However, I am naturally interested in 
any show for getting the chaps back, so although I should be 
sorry to lose you, of course you may go in the event of the proposi- 
tion sounding reasonable, and we shall provide the cash for you. 

But I warned him that Germans posing as French patriots had 
been infiltrated into many escapes by boat, and reports from the 
north showed that many so-called boating-parties were merely a 
Fascist ruse to collect as many prisoners-of-war as possible. How- 
ever, there had been several successful evacuations on the Adriatic 
side. 

These warnings, too, were never to reach Bill Simpson, for 
before the ink of my signature had dried, the calm, methodical 
lieutenant, who had worked on undismayed through eighteen 
weeks of turmoil, suddenly vanished. 



11 



Thrust and Parry 



JOLTED by a series of straight lefts, a boxer can be forgiven 
if he raises his guard against another, and then finds himself 
caught by an unexpected right uppercut. 

The Rome Organization was on the defensive, and concentrat- 
ing on fending off more blows, following the Perfetti and Gino 
revelations. I felt that in the haze of sudden raids Lieutenant 
Furman had become a marked man, since his habits and descrip- 
tion must have been well known to the Fascists. So I decided that 
for the time being he would have to be taken out of action, and 
set about making arrangements for him to be hidden in a 
seminary, which, to all intents and purposes, would be as safe as 
the Vatican itself. But long before the plans were complete, other 
events decreed that Furman must remain on active service. 

I was also worried that the Perfetti poison would spread in 
other directions, for although the Fascists had not yet laid hands 
on any of the priests, Perfetti knew enough for complaints to be 
passed through to the ecclesiastical authorities. Sure enough, two 
of our most stalwart assistants, the Maltese Father Borg ("Grobb") 
and the Irish Father Madden ("Edmund"), were shortly after- 
wards confined by their superiors to their religious houses. With 
Monsignor O'Flaherty virtually restricted to the Vatican, 
Brother Robert Pace ("Whitebows") out of the game, and Joe 
Pollak limited to occasional assistance because of his health, our 
outside staff was drastically reduced, just at a time when more 
movements than ever were taking place. The burden on the few 
who remained was thus increased enormously, and Lieutenant 
Simpson was carrying his full share. 

Then on April 18, the only billeting officer to have evaded re- 
capture during the winter disappeared. It was a body blow. 
Simpson had been of such vital importance to the organization 
that, in Furman's absence, I had ordered him never to sleep in 
the same billet on successive nights. It is true that after Furman's 
reappearance Simpson made his 'permanent' home in the per- 
fumed apartment of the film actress, Flora Volpini, but he had 



I go THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

continued to move around a good deal, for he knew the position 
of every 'cell,' and was never at a loss for a bed. 

On April 18 he was spending the night with an American 
friend, Lieutenant E. Dukate, who was billeted with two Italian 
black-market operators. In the middle of the night the flat was 
raided by S.S. men, which was fairly unusual at a time when 
most of the attacks against us were launched by the hated Fascist 
neo-Gestapo, but it was not black-marketeere they were after 
they wanted Simpson and Dukate only. 

Things go from bad to worse [reported Lieutenant Furman]. 
Now Bill is in the bag. I shall try to get Bill's prisoners looked 
after, with the aid of "Rinso," but I want a complete list of 
them. 

Simpson, the biggest fish the enemy had yet hooked out of the 
Rome Organization, simply disappeared. We had excellent con- 
tacts in so many places that normally we were quickly able to 
ascertain the whereabouts of recaptured escapers, but in this case 
we drew a long succession of blanks. Through our underground 
information lines we sent inquiries to the civil police and the 
Questura; at a less clandestine level the Swiss asked questions on 
our behalf, and the actress, Flora Volpini, herself made a direct 
approach to the Italian governor of the Regina Coeli, who was 
known to her. From all directions came the same response no 
one had heard of Lieutenant Simpson. We knew that as he had 
not been taken by the Fascist gang, he would not be in the torture 
centre in Via Principe Amedeo, but the alternative was scarcely 
less encouraging, for if he was in the Via Tasso headquarters of 
the Gestapo he would be lucky to emerge alive. 

While investigations continued, the ordinary work of the or- 
ganization had to go on, and Lieutenant Furman himself decided 
to remain in action, and postpone what he called "coming in- 
side." 

I was not happy about his being out and about in Rome, though 
I understood and accepted his decision. But I tried to dissuade 
him from following Simpson's earlier system of sleeping in dif- 
ferent billets every night, chiefly because I did not want him to 
venture on to the streets at all unless absolutely necessary, and 
also because I wanted to know where he could be found if he 
had to be moved 'inside' at short notice. 



THRUST AND PARRY igi 

For the moment I will stay put, doing only necessary work, and 
otherwise lying low [replied Furman]. When you think the time 
is ripe for me to go inside you will be able to let me know, but I 
am still not sure that the time is ripe with "Grobb" and "Ed- 
mund" out of action, in addition to Bill and "Whitebows," do you 
think I can be spared? 

The question was rhetorical, for Furman had already decided 
the answer for himself : he could not be spared. He dyed his hair 
jet black, changed the position of his parting, and shaved off his 
moustache. 

These alterations in appearance, which turned him into a 
typical Italian, were speeded after an alarming encounter. He re- 
ported to me : 

To-day I went back to my old billet, and to my horror met 
Memo there the friend of Gino, who was released after a couple 
of days' captivity. He was as alarmed to see me as I was to see 
him. He told me he was released on condition that he would look 
for me, and he had two guards with him for a couple of days, 
but they seem to have disappeared now. He thinks that Gino will 
be released within the next couple of days, also on condition that 
he helps look for me (Gino has already had most of his teeth 
knocked out or broken). He tells me that they have my descrip- 
tion down to the very last detail of my clothing which, incident- 
ally, I have now changed and also know a number of places 
which I frequent, and are watching them. He says, too, that the 
Fascists have told him I am a spy, and they will shoot me when 
they catch me. I have taken off my moustache, and am going to 
dye my hair, so don't be surprised when next you see me. 

Furman was now staying at the flat which he had arranged 
to be taken over by an Italian woman, Luciana Zoboli, and he 
had another scare when she asked him if she could bring in two 
young Italians who needed refuge. One was a doctor who had 
helped Allied escapers in the country north of Rome, serving as 
our contact with a group of twenty, but the other man was wear- 
ing the uniform of an officer in the Republican Guard. Luciana 
hastened to explain : the visitor had been an officer in the regular 
Italian army, and had been forced into joining the Republican 
guard, but once he had moved his family, against whom he had 
feared reprisals, to a place of safety, he deserted, and went into 
hiding. 



1 92 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

The faith that Furman had shown in our Italian friend, Renzo 
Lucidi, when he assured me that between them they would look 
after Lieutenant Simpson's billets, was not misplaced, Lucidi, who 
had helped the organization from the start, and had been Simp- 
son's principal assistant, now dropped all his business commit- 
ments, and devoted his full time to our work. He and Furman 
together managed to deal with Simpson's long list of billets, and 
whenever I had occasion to flash a warning to Furman that it 
was specially dangerous for him to be seen about the streets, 
Renzo's gallant French-born wife, Adrienne, went out, and de- 
livered the money and supplies to escapers. 

My warnings were, unfortunately, becoming ever more 
frequent, for the hatred of Germans which had fermented among 
the population of Rome (overt and underground equally), was 
now erupting in a rash of minor explosions, assassinations, and 
other unfriendly acts all over the city. Every bomb and every 
bullet resulted in a sudden surge of activity by the inflated security 
forces, and the harbouring of prisoners became so hazardous that 
a few Italian families broke under the strain, and begged us to 
remove the men in their care. We did so, of course, though it 
meant a shuffle of escapers at a time when everybody would have 
been better lying low, and when billet-space was exceedingly hard 
to find. 

I suppose the narrowest escape of this period was that of an 
Italian named Giovanni, who had taken into his home the five 
men who had been evacuated from Mrs Chevalier's flat. All five 
were at home when the Fascists hammered at Giovanni's door. 
There was no alternative exit, but he bundled them through the 
French window, on to the tiny balcony outside the living-room, 
and drew the curtains across, 

He then admitted the impatient Fascists, who fanned out 
through the flat, searched, and found nothing incriminating 
probably no new experience for them at a time when everybody 
was denouncing everybody else but just as they were leaving, 
their sergeant pointed to the curtained French window, and de- 
manded," What's through there?" 

"Only a balcony," said the sweating Giovanni, and offered 
him a drink. 

The Fascist thanked him, and said he would like one very much 
af ter he had made a routine check of the balcony. Giovanni, 



THRUST AND PARRY 193 

all hope gone, waited for the inevitable as the sergeant strode 
to the window, swept back the curtains, and stepped out on the 
balcony. Utter stillness followed. 

"Well, where's the drink you promised?" asked the sergeant, 
striding briskly back into the room. In a daze Giovanni handed 
him the whole bottle. 

After the Fascists had gone, Giovanni crossed himself, wiped 
away the sweat dripping from his chin, ventured on to the empty 
balcony, and peered down at the bare flagstones below. Then 
he heard a whisper, and from the balcony above a ladder slipped 
down; one by one, five Allied escapers made a hair-raising descent 
high above the streets of Rome, and their Italian 'padrone' 
realized that he owed his life and their freedom to his habit of 
keeping his household ladder on the balcony. 

About this time there returned to Rome, after a brief and 
abortive attempt to reach the Allied lines at Anzio, an escaper 
who had experienced one of the closest shaves of all Flight- 
Lieutenant E. Garrard-Cole. He had been in Rome for some 
months, and had helped Renzo Lucidi delivering food, although 
he did not then know of the existence of the organization. Our 
security system was such that officers occasionally helped in this 
way under the impression that they were assisting in a small 
ad hoc arrangement to aid British escapers, operated by their 
'padrone 9 and a few Italian friends. 

Garrard-Cole, a big man, who had provided, like a number of 
others, rather a problem for our wardrobe department, was riding 
on a tram, when he noticed to his discomfiture that he had 
attracted the attention of two uniformed Germans. Deciding not 
to press his luck, he got off, but they disembarked too, and fol- 
lowed him, keeping about twenty yards behind, and stopping 
whenever he stopped. He set off more briskly, but the Germans 
overtook him, one on each side, and demanded to see his identity 
card. He produced the false documents with which he had been 
supplied, and the Germans gave him some orders of which he 
clearly understood only two words, <c Via Tasso." He had no 
alternative but to walk with them, but equally he had no inten- 
tion of accompanying them all the way to the Gestapo head- 
quarters. 

Noting that they were armed only with pistols fastened in black 
holsters at their waists, and that neither looked particularly bright, 



194 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

the tall flight-lieutenant suddenly stuck out his long leg. The Ger- 
man on his right stumbled, and as he fell forward, Garrard-Cole 
helped him on the way with a mighty blow on the back of the 
neck, and hared off down the street. A bullet from the other 
German's pistol whistled past his ear as he plunged round the 
corner. 

He dived into a familiar block of flats, hid behind the door 
as the angry Germans clattered past, and then ran up the stairs 
to the home of Renzo Lucidi. Shortly afterwards Germans 
swarmed into the area, but Renzo had foreseen this, and Garrard- 
Cole was safely, if uncomfortably, squashed into the small cover- 
ing on the roof, which housed the mechanism of the lift, thought- 
fully put out of action by Renzo. Given a change of raincoat and 
hat, Garrard-Cole eventually emerged from the building, and 
made his way past two or three groups of Germans searching for 
him. He was hand in hand with the Lucidis* small son, Maurice, 
who chattered continuously in Italian to his "father" all the way 
to safety. 

It wsis an example of something we had always believed : that 
if Germans were told to look for a tall man in a light raincoat 
and a dark hat, they would never think of stopping a tall man in 
a dark raincoat and a light hat. I mused that if the enemy could 
be confused by a small change of clothing, then the alterations in 
Lieutenant Furman's appearance should destroy the scent utterly. 

April brought a shower of blows on the Rome Organization, 
and one of the heaviest was not an arrest but nevertheless meant 
the end of the tremendous help we had received from Captain 
Trippi of the Swiss Legation. From the start, he had directed to 
us all the new arrivals who turned up in Rome knowing nothing 
of the organization, but aware that Switzerland was Britain's pro- 
tecting power. Captain Trippi had also distributed food and 
clothing to escapers who called at his legation, had issued Red 
Cross parcels to ex-prisoners billeted in Rome, and, above all, 
had been largely responsible for the distribution of supplies to 
messengers on behalf of groups in the country areas. 

Therefore I was shocked to learn from Sir D'Arcy Osborne 
that the Swiss had indicated that they could no longer provide 
assistance to cx-prisoners-of-war or anybody else liable for arrest. 
This unwelcome decision resulted from a "friendly talk" between 
the Swiss Minister and the German Ambassador. 



THRUST AND PARRY 195 

The latter had explained that the German military authorities 
were aware that the Swiss were aiding escaped British prisoners- 
of-war. If it continued they might be forced to arrest the member 
of the Swiss Legation most implicated. In the face of this warn- 
ing, and of the threat of arrest of a member of the legation staff, 
the Swiss Minister had decided that these activities must cease. 

The German Ambassador, who was very friendly throughout 
the talk, observed that, after all, it was unnecessary for the Swiss 
to do this job, since it was notorious that the British Legation to 
the Holy See financed British prisoners-of-war in Rome on so 
generous a scale that British officers were often to be seen lunch- 
ing luxuriously at expensive restaurants ! 

The luxurious lunches, as the Minister and I both knew, were 
possible only for those officers who had made some arrangement 
with Italians for cashing their own money, but whether or not 
that cynical German barb struck home, the principal result was 
still the same : the Swiss Legation was now out of bounds. 

This meant that escapers in Rome could no longer collect Red 
Cross parcels, and orders were circulated to all billets immedi- 
ately, but the Germans acted even more promptly. Three escapers 
were arrested at the entrance to the Swiss Legation before they 
received the warning that the place which they had come to look 
upon almost as their village-store was now under German ob- 
servation. 

The loss of Captain Trippi's assistance meant that much of the 
supply line to the country groups now had to be directed through 
Lieutenant Furman, who was already carrying out an immense 
task. Noting his first reports on money sent to the country, I 
grinned to myself. This was new territory for Furman, and he 
was unaware that in our organization the "wide boys" were in 
the country rather than the city. 

John [I wrote], the country boys are up to all the tricks. Some 
are : giving false names and numbers; saying there are four men in 
one place when there are two; Italians collecting the money, and 
handing over only limited amounts to the ex-prisoners, and doing 
absolutely anything to get extra money often the chaps never 
give a penny to their "padrones/ and just spend the money on 
drink. Therefore, as a general policy, we usually give for twos 
and threes about 1000 lire per head to begin with, and for larger 
groups (say twenty chaps) about 10,000 lire, until we have got a 



ig6 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

line on the fellows. When we have checked up contacts and got 
receipts, and the details of the men appear to be O.K., we send 
about 2000 lire per man per month. The snag is that the contacts 
are up to all the games, and collect from as many places as pos- 
sible before going back to the country. Quite natural, but we pay 
out on names only. 

It was necessary, also, to beware of stool-pigeons. In the country 
the Germans were up to all sorts of tricks they even employed 
women to trace the source of cash, and used men dressed as 
"poor worn-out ex-prisoners-of-war!" They had all the answers, 
including army pay-books, numbers of camps, and so on. So I 
wrote, "Do be careful and move about as little as possible/' 

The problems of cscapers who turned most of their subsistence 
allowance into drink was always present. In Rome it led to rash 
behaviour at a time when Italian lives were already too cheap; 
in the country, where the risk to security was small, it usually 
meant that Italian helpers were kept short of recompense, since 
the allowance could not meet both subsistence and a generous 
supply of vino. 

Although I had to take stern action in severe cases, I tried to 
remember that the men in hiding were leading lives of drab 
monotony, unenlivened by the interest, which active helpers had, 
of a worthwhile job to be done, so I sought to make the men 
realize their responsibility to the Italians, rather than merely to 
reprimand them. 

To one group of five men who had been partaking fairly freely 
I wrote : 

The one thing that an escaped prisoner-of-war must avoid is 
drawing attention to himself, and his freedom depends on think- 
ing and acting quickly. It is now several months since the Italian 
armistice, and it seems probable that the Allied occupation will 
soon take place. Yet the number of ex-prisoners-of-war recaptured 
recently has been greater than at any other period. More than 
ever now, our enemies are making strenuous efforts to recapture 
as many ex-prisoners as they can, and more than ever now, the 
only reasonable course is to lie low. Remember the risk is not only 
personal, but will involve the people who have risked everything 
in order to try and keep you from being recaptured. I realize 
that you are not living under the happiest circumstances, but you 
must apply a little self-discipline : you risk recapture others risk 
much more. If, after reading this note and after careful thought, 



THRUST AND PARRY 

you feel incapable of carrying on the unnatural existence of living 
indoors the whole time, then in fairness to others the only decent 
thing is to push off again into the country. We will help you as 
far as we can with money but, whatever you do, think first be- 
fore you chuck away at the last moment all you've gone through 
since you escaped. 

Although life was both safer and cheaper in the country, I 
knew, even in the security of my office in the Vatican, that the 
escapers in the rural areas were leading a precarious existence. 
I had good reason to realize this, for in April I received many dis- 
turbing reports from the country of recaptures a and some of shoot- 
ings. 

There was little the organization could do for escapers who, 
caught in civilian clothes at a time when the Germans were not 
much concerned about the Geneva Convention, were promptly 
sentenced to death, but we did at least manage, in one or two 
cases, to get a last letter home from the doomed man. These 
letters, written with paper and pencil supplied by a village priest, 
who, if his action had been discovered, would undoubtedly have 
faced the firing-squad with the ex-prisoners, were often stark in 
their simplicity. 

One written on April 1 5 by a Glasgow boy read : 

DEAR MOTHER AND FATHER AND FAMILY, 

This is the last letter I will be able to write as I get shot to- 
day. Dear family, I have laid down my life for my country and 
everything that was dear to me. I hope this war will soon be over, 
so that you will all have peace for ever. Your ever loving soldier- 
son and brother, 

WILLIE 

A brief accompanying note just said : 

Just a few words to tell you that your son, Willie, was shot 
because he was caught and arrested in civilian clothes. I assure 
you that he received the comfort of our religion, and died in peace. 
THE REVEREND FATHER IL CAPPELLANO, 
P. ANTONIO INTRECOALAGLI 

The priest's note might have seemed stilted, and even a little 
austere, but he had risked his own life to enable a doomed man 
to give his family all he had left to give a word of farewell. 



ig8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

I read such notes with an ache, yet while they were saddening, 
they were inspiring too. They strengthened my determination that 
the 3739 mcn now k *k c carc f the Rome Organization should 
be kept out of German hands until they could be liberated to 
fight once more against the cold inhumanity of the most bestial 
enemy that ever faced the forces of Christianity and civilization. 

It was, however, becoming difficult to fulfil that determination. 
In a month eight escapers had been shot, and forty others re- 
turned to prison camps, and more than twenty Italian helpers 
had been arrested. Most of the recaptures had been due to de- 
nunciations, but no fewer than sixteen escapers had been picked 
up in the streets during routine checks, three of whom would 
have evaded arrest if they had not been drinking. 

Putting Lieutenant Colin Lesslie in the picture for although 
his large group "up the hill" remained mercifully free from Fas- 
cist attention, they sometimes felt they were out of touch with 
what was going on I wrote : 

We have had a very black time recently; eight chaps have 
been shot in the country (some forty kilometres north of Rome), 
Bill S. and over forty other chaps retaken; the Swiss have had 
to dose down so far as ex-prisoners are concerned; and three of 
"Golfs" friends have had to go into strict hiding. Most of the 
denunciations have been due to a semi-padre; fortunately, he did 
not know anything about your position although we are of the 
opinion that they will not raid any places like yours. Added to 
these black times, a lot of our boys have been going about con- 
trary to orders, and some have been getting drunk. I think the 
waiting is getting them down (but it is slowly getting us all down). 
However, I am still full of optimism, personally, in spite of all. 
There is definite evidence that the Huns have pulled out a hell 
of a lot of their heavy stuff. I only hope that the recent activity 
points to them pulling out too. 

For all my expressed optimism, I knew that the odds against 
us were mounting. Enemy thrusts were coming more quickly than 
the organization could parry them, and all the time the number 
of escapers on our books was increasing sharply, while the number 
of helpers was falling drastically. 

April added 300 names to the total strength of our under- 
ground army, but for the first time the number in Rome fell 
by thirty to 150. There were two reasons for this : firstly, many 



THRUST AND PARRY IQ9 

of our "Romans" had been recaptured; secondly, I had decided 
that there must be no new biHetings in the city. This decision had 
been forced by arithmetical common sense. Rome contained only 
about a twentieth of our escapcrs, but absorbed a quarter of 
our expenditure, and in the last four black weeks it had accounted 
for three-quarters of our losses through recapture. Living in Rome 
was thus both expensive and risky. 

On April 23 I therefore issued a long general order through a 
distribution list that would have made an administrative assistant 
at the War Office boggle: "To Golf, Eyerish, John, Fanny, 
Horace, Mr Bishop, Sandro, Spike, Emma, Dutchpa, Sailor, 
Rinso." 

After outlining the developments of the last few weeks, I told 
them all: 

Current propaganda in Rome is that the Allies will not arrive 
before the Autumn. This is strong propaganda when coupled 
with the food shortage and with the static condition of the bridge- 
head and Cassino fronts. The Fascists and S.S. have been, during 
the last four weeks, and still are, far more active in the rounding 
up of Allied ex-prisoners than at any time since the Italian 
armistice. These facts point to the following conclusions : 

1. Fascist gangs, working in collaboration with the Gestapo, 
are out to make a name for themselves by rounding up all ex- 
prisoners in Rome. 

2. The work of finding billets, paying 'padrones,' contacting 
and supplying men, is more difficult than ever before. 

3. The longer men remain cooped up indoors, the more 
desperate becomes their attitude of mind, and, stimulated by a 
drink or two, the more likely they are to take ill-advised action. 

In view of the foregoing I regret to have to issue the following 
instructions : No more ex-prisoners are to be billeted in Rome; 
any arriving in the city will be given financial help, and advised 
to return to the country. Ex-prisoners must on no account leave 
their billets unless they receive warning of an imminent raid. The 
practice of going from one billet to another to visit friends must 
cease forthwith. If forced to make a run for it ex-prisoners must 
leave Rome, and hide out in the country. Dashing to another 
billet only compromises additional people. A lump sum of 6000 
lire per man for the month of May will be given to you. This is 
for maintenance for May, and should allow for some ready cash 
hi an emergency. In some cases the lump sum may be paid 



200 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

to the ex-prisoner; in other cases it will require to be paid in 
instalments, as some of the boys would convert the cash into assets 
of a more 'liquid' character. 

As if we had not troubles enough, we suddenly lost the use of 
the centre which had been our operational headquarters from 
the very beginning of the organization. This followed further 
complaints from the Germans, which caused the Vatican 
authorities, without warning, to close all outside approaches to 
the Collcgio Tcutonicum. Monsignor O'Flaherty's busy room, for 
so long the hub of the organization, was now out of bounds, and 
Lieutenant Furman and the other outside agents were completely 
cut off from their headquarters. 

For a little while there was no contact at all, until a tenuous 
line of communication was established by the resourceful mon- 
signor, who arranged to meet agents actually inside the great 
basilica of St Peter's, to which he and they alike continued to 
have access. This expedient, however, was fraught with danger, 
for there were always people inside the church, and the tall mon- 
signor was a familiar figure, whose meetings with others in such 
a public place must have been observed. Such meetings also 
meant considerable risk for the agent, and the passing of letters 
or supplies of money was virtually impossible. I felt it could be 
only a matter of time before this arrangement led to further 
arrests, including the one I feared most of all that of Monsignor 
O'Flaherty. 

It was the astonishing John May who finally managed to re- 
store a link between headquarters and outside agents. He con- 
trived, by means which he never fully disclosed, to persuade the 
Swiss Guards to permit a few people, including Lieutenant Fur- 
man, to visit their guardroom beside the gate. The Swiss agreed 
that when these privileged visitors called they would contact the 
British Legation on the internal telephone system. John May 
could then go down to the guardroom the limit of movement 
permitted to him and converse in relative privacy. 

This arrangement meant that money could be handed out once 
again, and that I could send messages to Furman, who, after 
reading them, burnt them before leaving the guardroom. He, 
in turn, was able to write reports to me while in the guardroom 
waiting for John May. It meant, also, that Furman had to 



THRUST AND PARRY 2OI 

memorize all the instructions I sent him before leaving, and that 
he had to commit to memory everything that he wanted to re- 
port to me before arriving. 

A damned nuisance, this present arrangement not being able 
to get inside [he wrote in his first report, which covered half a 
dozen Vatican forms, used by applicants for appointments with 
priests and officials]. However, I hope it will soon sort itself out, 
one way or another. I'm dashing off this note while I am waiting 
for John to come. I am told I have half an hour to wait . . . 

Despite his annoyance with the new system, Furman was in 
a good mood, for the southern battle-front, after a long winter of 
immobility, was livening up again, and rumours had drifted up 
to Rome to dispel much of the apathy that had developed during 
April. Funnan noted the changed atmosphere, and ended his 
report : 

I have a feeling something is in the air. I can sense a curious 
excitement abroad, as though big things are about to happen 
everybody knows except me ! Anyway, I think they'll be here by 
the end of May. What are the odds? 

Funnan sent me more than just his greetings : despite all the 
difficulties with which he was now faced, his message was accom- 
panied by a bottle of genuine Scotch whisky. 

It is absolutely wonderful [I replied], I enclose 2000 lire for the 
bottle already sent : buy a drink with the balance for self and 
"Rinso." 

Back came a prompt reply from the irrespressible Funnan : 

The bottle was a present to cheer you up in your loneliness ! 
However, I will keep the 2000 lire and buy some more if I can 
find it. Cheerio ! 

Security had now been tightened to such an extent that many 
of the escapers billeted in Rome had no clear idea where their 
money was coming from, and occasionally even our own leading 
agents collided with each other in the deliberate fog of our security 
arrangements. 

Reporting the discovery of a South African corporal in Rome, 
Furman told me: 



202 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

I met this lad to-day. He hasn't yet had money for May, but 
he expects 2000 lire to-morrow. The money apparently comes 
from here, but is handled by several people before he gets it. Can 
you check up on this ? 

I knew the real contact to be "Mr Bishop," an Italian named 
Giuseppe Gonzi, who distributed through other Italians, but there 
seemed to be no useful purpose in passing on this information. 
There was only one way to preserve maximum security and 
simultaneously satisfy my billeting officer's curiosity I trans- 
ferred the corporal to Lieutenant Furman's list. 

In a later report Furman wrote : 

To-day "Rinso" told me he had paid 4000 lire to an American 
called Sergakis, who had received only 2000 from an Italian named 
Messina. 

On this occasion strict security had cost us a tenner, for Ser- 
gakis had received full allowance for the month, and I had a 
receipt signed by the man himself. 

Information about doubtful or difficult characters reached me 
fairly frequently, and in the isolation of the Vatican I had to take 
it all at face value, and circulate warnings accordingly, at the risk 
of being excessively cautious. 

On one occasion I wrote to Furman : 

Sergeant B. has already received a full allowance for May, and 
has now moved his billet against orders, and has said he will tell 
S.S. everything if interfered with. Leave alone. I shall deal with 
him afterwards. 

The truth was, of course, that this was one of those cases, 
happily rare, of a bumptious character who took a cocksure line 
with priests and Italian messengers that he would not have dared 
to take with officers. In this case Furman had the advantage over 
me of first-hand knowledge, and wrote back about the blustery 
sergeant: 

Know all about him. He's a bit of a rogue, but the S.S. busi- 
ness is all balderdash. 

Personal knowledge once led Furman to billet two South 
African officers in Rome despite the general order that all new 
arrivals were to be sent straight back to the country and this 
time I had the advantage of knowing something of these two. 



THRUST AND PARRY 203 

They are all right [wrote Furman, reporting their arrival], I 
vetted them personally, and we have mutual friends. I wonder 
if they could go 'up the hill' or to some other quiet but safe place? 

I replied : 

Both these gentlemen wrote to "Mount," who passed their 
letters to me : they appear to believe that the inside of the Vat. 
is like a large residential area, and "Mount" only has to invite 
them in. But they appear to have had a bad time, and obviously 
think we should do all we can for them. The hill is out of the 
question at the moment; can they be put in the apartment? Any- 
way, let them stay in Rome if they wish to. 

Sometimes every one was in the dark. One lone British captain 
made his way to Rome, got himself taken in by an Italian family, 
and lived happily in the middle of the city for several months 
before either he or the organization became aware of each other's 
existence. 

On another occasion Lieutenant Furman wrote to ask : 

What English officer is living at Porta Pia? We have had a tip- 
off that some one there is to be raided, but I know of nobody 
living there. 

We checked thoroughly through all the files, but they revealed 
nothing. However, I circulated warnings to all contacts in the 
Porta Pia area, in the hope they would reach the billet of the 
officer. 

The circulating of warnings was of vital importance, but they 
did not always succeed in their purpose. The failure of two men 
to receive one message lost us the home of Mrs Chevalier, and 
put the gallant, selfless widow and her copious family out of the 
escape game. 

We knew well enough that her house was being watched, for 
the alert Mrs Chevalier herself had been quick to take notice of 
the two thin men in plain clothes, accompanied by an Italian 
woman, who spent most of their day in the caf6 on the other side 
of the street. When the two men strolled across, and casually 
questioned the porter of the block about her, the porter lost no 
time in warning Mrs Chevalier, who, through her curtains, could 
see them settling themselves comfortably again in the caf with- 
in arm's reach of the telephone. 



204 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

There were, of course, no escapers billeted with Mrs Chevalier 
at the time, but she had been 'Mother' to so many living in other 
billets that she inevitably had frequent social calls from her grate- 
ful ex-lodgers. I would have been the last to presume that my 
"stay indoors" orders had succeeded in ending this somewhat 
thoughtless practice, but fortunately, Mrs Chevalier, who had 
rarely shown enough concern for her own safety, now realized 
that a single visit might be her death warrant. She managed to 
get a message to Lieutenant Furman that her house was under 
close observation, and without wasting time he immediately 
flashed warnings to everybody he thought might be tempted to 
call at the hospitable flat. He ordered escapers that under no 
circumstances at all were they to go near the place. 

But two, Martin and Everett, an American, never received the 
warning, and next morning they strolled casually into the block 
of flats, unaware that hostile Gestapo eyes were firmly riveted 
on their disappearing backs. This was the very sort of situation I 
had sought to prevent by the general order to stay indoors, which 
they were flagrantly disobeying. With leisurely unconcern, they 
made their way up the five flights of stairs, but as soon as they 
saw Mrs Chevalier when she opened the door, they knew some- 
thing was wrong. 

"Go, go!" said Mrs Chevalier urgently. "The Germans are 
waiting outside!" 

Martin and Everett realized that they might be heading straight 
into the arms of the Gestapo, but they turned without hesitation 
and ran down the stairs. Quite properly, their thoughts were fixed 
on putting as much distance as possible between Mrs Chevalier 
and themselves before they were caught. Slowing to a walk at the 
foot of the stairs, they strolled out of the main entrance into the 
street, and, forewarned, immediately noticed a thin man in a 
raincoat emerge from the caf6 opposite. They quickened their 
pace, and so did the Gestapo agent, but at the first opportunity, 
before he had crossed the road, they swung into a narrow court- 
yard, and immediately broke into an all-out gallop. 

Back at the flat, Mrs Chevalier had already put her last-ditch 
evacuation plan into operation. One at a time, at brief intervals, and 
without baggage of any sort, her daughters and son were leaving, 
turning in different directions as they emerged from the front 
door. Mrs Chevalier was the last to go, and had little hope that 



THRUST AND PARRY 2O5 

she would be allowed to get far, but the simple ruse was success- 
ful. It did not occur to the remaining agent in the caf6 that among 
people constantly drifting out of the block of flats was an entire 
family abandoning its home. Presumably, his orders had been to 
watch for British ex-prisoners, and the possibility that the bait 
might trickle out of the trap had never occurred to him. 

By different routes, Mrs Chevalier and her family made their 
way to the home of a friend some distance away, and one by one, 
some after deliberately long walks, her family arrived, to meet a 
growing chorus of welcome. Eventually, the whole family moved 
to a farm comfortably on the outskirts, where they remained until 
the Germans left Rome. We were able to send assistance to them, 
though it could never represent more than a fraction of what the 
Allies owed to Mrs Henrietta Chevalier. 

The safety of this family was the only consoling feature of what 
otherwise was a very sorry incident indeed. Reporting on what 
had happened, Lieutenant Furman wrote : 

A big Hap ensued, and the family's evacuation may be a good 
thing in one way, because there was always the danger that if 
the place was raided they would have given the whole show away. 
"Mrs M." told me she was hard up, and I gave her 3000 lire. 

I sighed as I read. If only people would obey their orders, 
including unpopular and even apparently unreasonable ones, 
fewer good lives would be endangered. But I contented myself 
with commenting to Furman on the evacuation of the Cheva- 
liers. "A very wise precaution." 

As for Martin and Everett, I had some thoughts ready for them, 
but they had disappeared. Lieutenant Furman pursued energetic 
inquiries, but could find no trace of them at all, and after three 
days we had to presume that they were lost. Then, through Italian 
contacts, Furman accidentally discovered that both had eluded 
their German pursuer, and were safe and sound in a billet the 
existence of which had been completely unknown to us. 

Meanwhile inquiries were continuing in the attempt to find 
out what had happened to Bill Simpson. Our efforts were 
strenuous but unavailing, for, had we but known it, Simpson him- 
self had completely covered his tracks. And the Gestapo had yet 
another blow for us they caught one of the priests, and dragged 
him away to their dreaded headquarters at Via Tasso. 



12 



Open City 



"DON'T lie!" shouted the Gestapo commandant, landing an- 
other vicious blow with the back of his hand across the face of 
the half-conscious, half-clothed priest. "We know who you are," 
he went on, "y u are ^ English officer. You can't fool us, dis- 
guising yourself as a priest." 

One of the things I dreaded most had happened the Gestapo 
had pounced on a priest for 'questioning* in their own sadistic 
manner. 

Father Ansclmo Musters, the Netherlands-born priest who was 
coded as "Dutchpa," realized that the Gestapo must have got on 
to something, for he knew very well that I was the officer who had 
masqueraded as a priest. He himself, moreover, had been working 
continuously with Monsignor O'Flaherty from the earliest days, 
and he was horribly aware that he had knowledge enough to 
secure the downfall of the whole organization if the Germans 
could get it out of him. Silently, in the cacophony of shouted 
questions and savage blows, he prayed for strength to with- 
stand. 

On the previous day, in the bright May sunshine that turned 
Rome into a city of sparkling light, he had been striding through 
the streets, active on the organization's business. He had just left 
the billet of a South African sergeant, and was on his way to two 
others, when he realized that a grim-looking man in plain clothes 
was keeping an even distance behind him. He stopped for a 
moment, and the plain-clothes man stopped too, looking uncon- 
vincingly into a shop window. Thoughtfully Father Musters 
strode on, but he changed his course, and turned towards the 
cathedral-like church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Before he could 
set foot on the vast flight of steps which, running more than the 
width of the church's columned f agade, marked the limit of Vati- 
can extra-territorial property, the plain-clothes man overtook 
him, and ordered him to halt. 

"Identity documents," he demanded, in a strong, guttural 
accent, which left no doubt about his nationality. 



OPEN CITY 207 

"I will show them to you on the steps of the church," said 
Father Musters, striding on, and resting his hopes on the moderate 
protection of extra-territorial sanctity. 

The Gestapo man jumped in front of him, to bar his way, but 
Father Musters strode round him, and started up the side steps, 
polling a pistol from inside his coat, the German ran up after 
him, and commanded him to stop, but with only a glance at the 
ugly muzzle waving in his face, Father Musters pushed the man 
unceremoniously aside, and gained the top of the steps. 

Then he felt a vicious blow on the back of his head, and as 
he crumpled in a daze, he fell forward almost into the church 
and unmistakably on to Vatican property. A Palatine guard, 
who from within the door had seen the priest struck from behind 
with the butt of the pistol, rushed forward to drag the half-con- 
scious priest into the church. The German, pocketing his pistol, 
turned angrily on his heel, ran down the steps, and disappeared 
across the piazza. 

Helped by the guard into a small vestry, Father Musters got 
in touch with the Vatican authorities, who told him to remain 
where he was until the following morning, when he would be 
collected by an escort, and taken back to his Mother house. "You 
will be quite safe where you arc for the time being," he was told 
by his superiors. 

They were wrong. Less than half an hour later a large squad 
of uniformed S.S. men, all fully armed, completely surrounded 
the great church, and one group, led by an S.S. captain, marched 
up the steps, and into the church. Pushing aside the protesting 
Palatine guard, the jack-booted Germans, sub-machine-guns at 
the ready, clattered noisily through the still aisles to the room 
where Father Musters sat. 

"On your feet," commanded the German captain. "You will 
come with us." 

"This is extra-territorial property," replied the Dutch priest 
evenly. "You have no right to burst in here. I have been ordered 
by my superiors to stay here." 

For answer, the captain turned, took a sub-machine-gun from 
one of his men, and swung it with all his force on to the priest's 
head. For the second time in half an hour, Father Musters 
crumpled to the ground, and he was barely conscious as two S.S. 
men grabbed him by the feet, and dragged him through the 



208 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

church, out of the door, and down to the piazza, his head bump- 
ing on each successive step as they descended. 

He still had not fully recovered when he was bundled into the 
Gestapo headquarters at Via Tasso, but was sufficiently conscious 
to realize that his arrival had generated an atmosphere of triumph 
among the Germans. Gradually he became aware that they were 
under the impression that they had captured an English colonel in 
disguise. 

His clothes were torn from him and searched minutely, every 
garment being stripped of its lining and opened up at the seams. 
Even his shoes were taken completely to pieces. The Germans 
found nothing that could incriminate him, but this did not deter 
them, and they screamed and bellowed constantly at him, "Con- 
fess you're an English spy." 

With his arms handcuffed behind his back, and his feet heavily 
manacled, the priest was interrogated daily for a fortnight by 
two S.S. officers, who questioned him endlessly about an organiza- 
tion which, they said, the authorities knew existed, to assist Allied 
ex-prisoners-of-war. They even showed him a diagram, discon- 
certingly accurate, which they had made of the organization, and 
threatened him with death if he did not tell them where he fitted 
into it Steadfastly, through all forms of physical and mental mal- 
treatment, he maintained he knew nothing about it. 

Because of the circumstances of the priest's arrest, and the fact 
that he had contacted the Vatican, I was soon informed that he 
had fallen into enemy hands. While the ecclesiastical authorities 
went to work to secure his release, I immediately put our normal 
security arrangements into operation. Working on the assumption 
that every one of the billets known to the captured priest must 
be considered compromised, I sent warnings to all the 'padrones,' 
and had all the prisoners evacuated to other accommodation well 
before the curfew descended on Rome. 

In the event it proved unnecessary, since not one of the ad- 
dresses known to Father Musters was ever raided, for although 
constantly under threat of death, and brutally and repeatedly 
beaten up, the gallant priest stood up to his inquisitors for three 
dreadful weeks without revealing a single word about the or- 
ganization. On the twenty-first day even the past-masters of in- 
terrogation admitted themselves defeated, and threw Father 
Musters into a dark cell. There he remained in absolute isolation 



OPEN CITY 20g 

for a fortnight, and then was put on a train for Ger- 
many. 

Had he reached Germany, his fate would have been sealed, 
but Father Musters, though battered, bloody, and bruised, was 
by no means broken in spirit, and when the train halted at Flor- 
ence he eluded his guards, made a dash, and got clean away. He 
headed at once for Rome, but by the time he arrived it was June, 
and he found a very different city from the one he had left. 

On May 18 Gassino, the stumbling-block and pivot of the 
whole stubborn, static line in the south of Italy, fell at last. Polish 
forces marched into the hilltop monastery, and the Allies began to 
sweep northward through Italy. A new spirit began to surge 
through Rome, and I found myself confronted with a wealth of 
offers of help. Everybody who had the slightest suspicion of the 
existence of the organization now wanted to join it. 

With the Allied occupation of Rome imminent, Italians whose 
co-operation had not been conspicuous in the past, were falling 
over themselves in the scramble to offer their services to anybody 
with the slightest claim to be an enemy of Germany. Every one 
who had denounced anyone during the long night of German 
occupation sought frantically to render some small service to the 
other side, and even the few renegade Allied nationals, who had 
earlier thrown in their lot with the Axis, sent out pitiful feelers, 
in the hope of putting themselves back on the right side of the 
fence. 

I was delighted, for although I realized that most of these 
came from sources that we would earlier have avoided at all 
costs, there was no reason why we should not now make some 
use of them. Of course, I never contemplated using any of these 
Vicar of Bray characters for billeting or supply work, but there 
were two services which they could render without risk to our 
organization. They could take over a large part of the illegal and 
onerous task of buying up on the black market the prodigous 
supplies we needed, and they could act as one-way informa- 
tion sources, collecting odd scraps of knowledge about enemy 
activity, which we collated and passed to the advancing British 
forces. 

Clearly the end was now at last almost in sight, but there re- 
mained plenty of time for a fatal slip before the cup of liberation 
reached our lips, so rather than slackening the security rein, I 



2IO THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

tightened it still further. There was always the possibility that 
the Germans would raid the Vatican as their hold on Rome 
weakened, and my feeling of personal responsibility for 3500 
escapers, of whom 136 were in Rome, grew with every passing 
day, for with more and more of our enemies dropping back into 
the city and its environs, the risk of recapture rose steadily. 

For an escaper to be taken now, with liberation so close, was a 
tragedy, yet there were constant reminders of the danger, and 
Lieutenant Furman, although now travelling about the city much 
less than before, seemed to be permanently poised on the very 
brink of recapture. On one occasion he was out delivering Ameri- 
can-issue tobacco, bought on the black market but still in its 
original colourful wrappings, when the tram on which he was 
travelling screeched to a sudden stop. The Italian Fascists had 
set up an unusually impressive road-block, he was uncomfortably 
aware of the incriminating evidence in his pockets. Two or three 
American packets of tobacco would invite dangerous questions, 
if only on the grounds of black-marketeering, but his small note- 
book was a much bigger risk, for although in a code of his own, 
it contained the addresses of many of his billets. Yet he could not 
throw it away, or even part of it, without being seen. With his 
hand in his pocket, he tore out the pages, and screwed them into 
a tight little ball. He did not dare to throw it on to the floor, but 
as the passengers crowded together to leave the tram, he found 
himself pressed against a stout Italian matron with a heaving 
bosom and a crowded shopping-basket, so he dropped the in- 
criminating pellet into the basket among the vegetables. 

The organization's secrets would next, in all probability, be 
found in some suburban kitchen, but Furman was not worried, 
since the scribbled pages were completely meaningless in them- 
selves, and none of the notes or addresses or other personal hiero- 
glyphs were capable of interpretation by any one but himself. 

He was still, of course, left with the gaudy American packets 
of tobacco, but these were less dangerous. By now the men in 
the tram were being marshalled out on the street, so working 
again by touch, Furman tore open the packets, emptied the 
tobacco into his pocket, and unobtrusively dropped the labels be- 
hind him. He had tactfully taken his place at the end of the queue, 
and by the time he reached the checking-table there was nothing 
incriminating about him except a pocket full of loose tobacco. 



OPENCITV 211 

Unlike the disgruntled tram passengers who had gone before 
him, Furman did not protest and gesticulate at the table, but, 
with a silent, haughty smile, handed over his impressive collection 
of identity documents. His Vatican card and his pass signed by 
the German Minister were papers of a much higher level than 
those the Fascists usually unearthed, and Furman could see the 
Fascist officers looking curiously towards him as they conferred 
over them in the background. Without speaking a word, he main- 
tained his aloof, slightly patronizing attitude, as though he fully 
understood that the common soldiery had to carry out its menial 
duty. His papers were returned, and he accepted them with no 
more than a patient smile. He nodded to the officer who seemed 
to be in charge, turned and walked slowly away, swaggering 
slightly and not until he was safely round a corner of the street 
did he give in to his urge to get away as fast as his legs would 
carry him. 

I presented my documents, and got away without having to 
speak a word [Furman reported gleefully to me]. Herewith one 
bottle of brandy, 800 lire. I still have 1 200 of yours. 

What an escape [I replied]. Please don't bother about any more 
booze, John it is far too much trouble. You and "Rinso" have a 
drink with the balance, to celebrate your latest escape ! 

But Furman was still in trouble. When he returned on the 
evening of his narrow escape to his billet, in Via Dalmazia, he 
was warned to leave at once because a visit from the police was 
imminent, not because of the organization, but following a 
burglary at the business address of his 'padrone,' Luciana. Fur- 
man, fortunately, had an alternative billet within ten minutes' 
walk, at the flat of Lutiana's brother, Tonini, to which he had 
an invitation to go any time he was in difficulties. 

A week later he had to change his billet again, and this time he 
made his journey through the streets in company with Bruno, 
the Republican Guard deserter, who was still wearing his officer's 
uniform, with revolver at the waist. Furman also was armed, 
with a tiny ornamental pistol made for a lady's handbag, but 
effective enough at close range. Moreover, his pockets were stuffed 
with Rome Organization money and documents. 

With this compromising evidence, they were stopped in Via 



212 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Clitunno by two men who demanded to see their identity docu- 
ments, and at the same time produced their own, showing them 
to be plain-clothes Fascist police. Furman and the deserter handed 
over their identity cards, and as the Fascists studied them, 
Furman, one hand in his pocket, gently slid back the safety-catch 
on his miniature pistol, and his companion unobtrusively undid 
the button on his revolver holster. 

Both had the same thought, that it was now too near the end 
of the road to be taken without a fight. But the documents satis- 
fied the Fascists, and they waved the English officer and the 
Italian deserter on their way without further interrogation. Once 
again Furman got away without speaking a word at any rate, 
only one, "Grazie." 

So once again I have to congratulate you on a narrow escape [I 
wrote]. Please pay "Rinso" in full and give a little to "Mrs 
Rinso" for her excellent work. 

Adrienne's "excellent work" at this stage included an ingenious 
attempt to rescue Lieutenant Bill Simpson, who was, we were now 
sure, in the Regina Coeli. The blonde Frenchwoman suggested 
that she should go to the double-agent, Dr Cipolla, and ask him 
to approach his German contacts with the proposal that they 
should release two of the British officers held at the prison, en- 
suring that they knew their freedom was due to Cipolla's efforts. 
He was to tell the Germans that he would then be able to get in 
with the British, and so continue as a valuable agent for the Ger- 
mans after they had been forced to leave Rome. The two prisoners 
whose release he was to effect were Lieutenant Simpson and Cap- 
tain John Armstrong, who had never been in touch with the or- 
ganization, but whom we knew to have been in the Regina Coeli 
for the last nine months. 

The scheme was complicated but neat, and it put Dr Cipolla 
into as curious a r61e as any underground agent ever filled. He 
was already working simultaneously for the Germans and the 
British, but now, on behalf of the British, he was to pretend to be 
a German agent pretending to be a British agent, so as to send in- 
formation to the Germans. 

Cipolla welcomed Adrienne's scheme, for it gave him the op- 
portunity to do something for the Allies, who would soon be in 



OPEN CITY 213 

Rome, and at the same time enhance his standing with the Ger- 
mans. No double-agent could wish for more. 

He went straight to the German commandant, explained the 
plan which, of course, he put forward as his own and asked 
if he could take out two British prisoners of his choice. The com- 
mandant, realizing the inevitability of an imminent withdrawal 
from Rome, and the desirability of leaving a well-placed agent 
in the city, quickly agreed, and handed to Cipolla a list of all the 
British prisoners in the Regina Coeli. 

Cipolla, scanning through it, saw with alarm that it did not 
contain the names of the two men he had undertaken to collect. 
He could not inquire about them without giving the whole show 
away, and he could scarcely disown the scheme or suggest coming 
back another day, so he chose a couple of names on the list at 
random. That was how, much to their surprise, two English 
civilians, who had been interned since Italy's entry into the war, 
came to be prematurely released. 

The ruse could not be used again, and Lieutenant Furman 
and the Lucidis could not imagine where it had gone wrong. But 
back at headquarters I had located the fly in the ointment. Blon 
Kiernan had told me that the German military authorities had 
made inquiries at the Irish Legation about an Irishman named 
William O'Flynn, who was supposed to be employed at the Vati- 
can and had received the inevitable reply that no one of that 
name was known to the legation. 

This was bad news indeed, for O'Flynn was the name that had 
been used on Simpson's false documents, and the German inquiry 
meant that he was still sticking to a story which the Irish reply 
had now proved to be false. The position was thus extremely 
delicate. Simpson was not protected as a combatant prisoner-of- 
war, and no diplomatic intercession could be made for him with- 
out confirming that he was a British officer with an assumed 
identity, which would give the Germans every excuse for shoot- 
ing him as a spy. 

We were still seeking for a solution when we heard from Simp- 
son himself, in a letter smuggled out of the prison, and delivered 
to us a fortnight later. He wrote : 

Three weeks here to-day, and still waiting for something to 
happen. Not even interrogated so far. After one week they asked 



214 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

my name and occupation and nationality William O'Flynn, 
Vatican, Irish, as always. I protested, and asked if they had in- 
quired or would advise somebody that I was here. They say they 
can't do anything, and I'll have to wait the pleasure of the S.S. 
Don't worry there will be no complications. I shall be very 
grateful if you will give the bearer 10,000 lire for me. If the pay- 
bloke wishes he can debit it to me, but let him understand that 
I shall only use part of it myself. Further, if I am still here when 
it arrives it shall be given to others that's fixed. Kindest regards 
and auguri to all acquaintances; and many thanks to your good 
self for all your assistance. 

BILL 

I was acutely conscious that all the assistance we could give to 
Simpson at the moment did not amount to much. I sent the 
10,000 lire at once, though without much hope that it would ever 
reach its destination, and I also sent something more important 
a warning to Simpson that his claim to Irish nationality had 
already been broken down by the Germans. 

In fact, the message did not get through, for he was now in 
the one wing of the prison, a semi-basement, guarded solely by 
Germans. We had managed to establish a fairly successful service 
of information and supplies to prisoners in the Fascist parts of 
the prison, but even the substantial bribes paid by the Rome 
Organization could not pierce the German wing. The Italian 
black-market go-between could find no way through to Simpson. 

We now had no way of knowing whether Simpson was dead or 
vociferously claiming prisoner-of-war status. The only thing that 
was evident was that his future was not bright. Yet when things 
seemed blackest, and I was beginning to despair, Monsignor 
O'Flaherty had a surprising visitor. 

The caller was a Roman nobleman, with whom I had been in 
contact earlier under rather different circumstances. I had helped 
to smuggle his sister into the Vatican, away from the clutches of 
the Fascists, who were searching for her. It was one of our more 
audacious enterprises, and was the only occasion when a woman 
managed to take part in the Vatican formality of changing the 
guard. Wearing the uniform of a Swiss guard, which had been 
'borrowed' for her by John May, the lady slipped through the 
gate, and unobtrusively joined on the end of a troop while the 
guard was being changed at midnight. I was waiting with the 



OPEN CITY 215 

monsignor and John May, hidden in the deep shadows round a 
corner which we knew the marching column would pass. Stand- 
ing with our backs flat against the wall, seeing but unseen, we 
watched the Swiss Guards tramp by only a yard away, and as the 
end of the column passed us, Monsignor O'Flaherty reached out 
a black-sleeved arm, grabbed the imposter's shoulder, and tugged 
her quickly into the shadows beside us. 

It was over in a second, and the Swiss Guards marched on 
without noticing anything amiss : the lady pulled off the uniform, 
and put on a raincoat which we had brought for her, and then 
accompanied John May and me to the British Legation, where, 
unknown to the Minister, she remained in hiding until we had 
been able to make arrangements for her to stay at the legation of 
one of the South American Republics. 

This time the nobleman was calling as an emissary from none 
other than the man we hated above all in Rome, Piedro Koch, 
the chief of the barbaric Fascist neo-Gestapo, who were in charge 
of all the recaptured members of our organization in the Regina 
Coeli. Koch had seen the red light, and, realizing that if he re- 
mained in Rome after the liberation he was more likely to be 
physically torn apart than quietly shot, he was making arrange- 
ments to go north when the Germans withdrew. 

"I think he has no illusions," said the emissary. "He wants to 
make a bargain with you. He says that if the monsignor will 
arrange to place his wife and mother in hiding in a religious house 
when he goes, he, in exchange, will ensure that the monsignor*s 
friends are left in the Regina Coeli instead of being transported 
to Germany." 

The monsignor, however, was far from confident that he could 
trust the Fascist to keep his side of the bargain, and, with his usual 
wise foresight, he decided to make sure. 

"Tell Koch I agree to his suggestion on one condition," he told 
the emissary. "As evidence of his good faith, he must first deliver 
safely to me the two British officers who are in the Regina Coeli 
Lieutenant Simpson and Captain Armstrong. If he does that 
I shall make the arrangements he desires for his wife and 
mother." 

When Monsignor O'Flaherty told me what had been going on 
I became more optimistic, and wrote to Furaian, "Have great 
hopes of getting Bill out to-morrow." 



2l6 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Koch accepted the condition imposed by the monsignor, and 
agreed to extricate the two officers forthwith. 

Shortly afterwards, sitting in his cell, Bill Simpson heard a 
request for "Lieutenant Simpson" on the prison's loudspeaker 
system, but because my message had not reached him he was still 
unaware that his pose as an Irishman had been broken down. He 
thought it was a trap, and said nothing. Nor was Captain Arm- 
strong forthcoming, and the emissary reported failure. 

This placed Monsignor O'Flaherty in a dilemma. Realizing 
that Simpson must be maintaining his pose, he knew that it would 
be necessary to reveal the assumed name of OTlynn to Koch, if 
the Fascist's desire to help his family was to be turned to Simp- 
son's advantage, and there were obvious dangers in such a course. 
But the alternative was worse. The Germans already knew that 
Simpson was not who he said he was, and if he could not be 
released from prison before the withdrawal his future was black, 
for he would either be investigated and executed, or shot out of 
hand before the evacuation. The monsignor made his decision, 
and told the emissary to inform Koch that Lieutenant Simpson 
might be found under the name of O'Flynn, but what name 
Captain Armstrong was using, he had no idea. 

This time I was not so optimistic, and I replied to an inquiry 
by Furman : 

Our efforts for Bill seem to be failing. However, we have not 
given up hope yet, and are still trying. 

While Monsignor O'Flaherty concentrated on life-saving, a 
task at which he was singularly adept, I found many other matters 
demanding attention as the Allied advance rolled on towards 
Rome, particularly the collection and despatch of information on 
German troop movements. Beyond the city the sound of battle 
was already audible, but Furman and the other escapere could 
only guess what would happen next. They could see German 
columns being withdrawn from the battle line, and much heavy 
equipment moving steadily northward, but for all any of us knew, 
the Germans were still prepared to stand and turn the Eternal 
City into a second Stalingrad, defending it street by street, until 
nothing but ashes remained. 

Cut off from most first-hand information, I was nevertheless 



OPEN CITY 217 

in a better position than most of us to make a prediction about the 
immediate future of Rome, for Blon Kiernan, after another social 
caH on Prince Bismarck, had passed on the information that the 
Germans intended to declare it an open city. This was splendid 
news, for although we had prepared to protect ex-prisoners during 
street fighting by sending them down to the catacombs, it would 
have been difficult, if not impossible, to keep going through a pro- 
longed period of siege. But if the Germans withdrew without 
putting up a fight our escapers could remain in their billets with- 
out much danger. 

Since I was still a prisoner in the Vatican, I was considerably 
surprised to find myself the first Briton in Rome to establish 
direct contact with the spearhead of the Allied advance. On 
June 2 an armoured attack thrust past the Pope's great summer 
villa at Castel Gandolfo, where Paul Freyberg had begun his 
strange journey to internment, and a British liaison officer came 
across the short-wave radio equipment used to maintain contact 
with Rome. 

Shortly afterwards an excited John May came to me, and said, 
"I've just had a message from the Vatican radio-station. They 
are in contact with a British officer at Castel Gandolfo who wants 
to know if he can speak to somebody British." 

'Til deal with it," I replied gladly. "Where is it?" 

"There's an operator already on the way here with a portable 
set. All part of the service," said John May blandly. 

The Italian operator set up his equipment near my window, 
called up the villa, and handed the microphone over to me. 

"Who are you ?" crackled a voice. 

"Major Deny, First Field Regiment." 

"Where the hell are you ?" asked the liaison officer. 

"In the Vatican," I answered. 

"Where did you say ?" asked the unbelieving voice. 

"In the Vatican. Can I help you ?" 

"Yes have you any idea what is going on in Rome ?" 

At that moment I had a very good idea indeed. From the high 
window where I stood, there was a clear view of German vehicles 
and lines of infantrymen, in single file with their weapons at the 
trail, crawling comfortably northward along the Via Aurdia, 
which flanked the Vatican City's high wall. "The Jerries appear 
to be withdrawing from the city very nicely," I said. 



2l8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

"Is it orderly? Or arc they going to do any street fighting?" 

Feeling like a broadcast commentator at a state occasion, I 
swept my gaze along the grey line moving slowly below, and re- 
plied, "They seem to be pulling back in an orderly manner. There 
are no signs of preparation for street fighting. Are you now in con- 
tact with the enemy ?" 

"No," replied the liaison officer. "They broke off contact last 
night. Do you know the position regarding the river bridges in 
Rome ? Shall we have difficulty in getting across ?" 

"So far as we know, they have not been mined, but if you like 
I can find out for certain, and get a message back to you," I 
answered. 

We sent out agents to check on all the bridges nearest to the 
Vatican, and the report I was able to give the liaison officer an 
hour later was encouraging, for the bridges were intact, and the 
Allies would have a clear passage through Rome. 

Among the units passing northward below my window had 
been a battery of anti-tank guns, a vital factor in defence, and all 
the indications were that the Germans would not stand and fight 
until they reached the defence line which we knew they had con- 
structed forty miles north of Rome. 

I could not refrain from asking the question in every one's 
mind, "When will you arrive ?" 

"Maybe to-morrow or the next day," he replied. "I can't be 
sure. We are still pretty far ahead of our main forces." 

I replaced the telephone, with a glowing feeling that the end 
was near, but we had all thought the same when the Allies landed 
at Anzio, twenty miles away, and that was now eighteen weeks 
ago. Castel Gandolfo was eighteen miles from Rome, and the 
main Allied forces were apparently still far short of it. But it was 
a most exhilarating 'phone call.' It brought hope. 

In the city itself the Germans and their Fascist henchmen 
were as firmly in command as ever, and there was still time for 
the whole organization to be rounded up, so no slackening was 
allowed on our part. As late as June 3 Lieutenant Furman was 
asking about a private who had turned up as a 'major' : 

Have you got any dope on this chap? His background is so odd 
that we should look pretty silly if he turned out at this stage to be 
a wrong 'un. 



OPEN CITY 219 

I replied with a warning : 
Have no dope on this man but treat him with the utmost 

caution. 

There was more danger than ever before that the Germans 
would try to infiltrate a spy into the escape line. In the past such 
an attempt would have been aimed at uncovering the organiza- 
tion, but now, with allied occupation near, it would have the more 
sinister purpose of planting an agent behind our own lines. I 
hoped the Germans would have been lulled into a false sense of 
achievement by the Cipolla incident, but I did not intend to take 
chances. I was particularly conscious of the danger of being left 
with a spy in our midst, because I had just helped to play the 
same trick on the Germans, and among the Fascist refugees 
trekking northward were four Italian radio-operators who had 
been working in close co-operation with the organization. 

The biggest worry, however, was always the fate of our mem- 
bers and helpers in the prisons of Rome. There were twenty-four 
recaptured escapers in the Regina Coeli, three in the Gestapo 
prison at the Via Tasso, and six in the small Forte Boccea, as well 
as fifty of our helpers in the Italian sections of the Regina Coeli. 
I was immensely relieved when reports began to reach the mon- 
signor of the reappearance of some of the Italians in their own 
homes. The Germans were still in command, but the Italian 
guards at the prisons were beginning to desert their posts, leaving 
the cells unlocked as they departed. 

As the reports of the reunion of Italian families increased, 
Monsignor O'Flaherty and I found our initial delight becoming 
more and more subdued, for none of the ex-prisoners-of-war were 
among those released. The German-controlled parts of the gaols 
were still under supervision as close as ever. 

Furman shared this concern, and with a nagging worry about 
the fate of Lieutenant Simpson and the others amid the excite- 
ment of obviously approaching liberation, he and Renzo Lucidi 
found it difficult to concentrate on making up their accounts. 
Even as they sat in the Lucidis* comfortable flat in Via Scialoia, 
Furman knew that the end, though near, had not yet come. Visit- 
ing billets that morning, he had found the streets more than ever 
full of Germans and Fascists, and he had noted with regret that 
the retreat of the grey columns along the road showed no signs of 
being a rout. 



22O THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

He and his host were discussing this when the doorbell of the 
flat rang. It brought Furman and his companion to their feet 
with a sudden shock, for it was the secret signal known to Pas- 
qualino Perfetti and passed on to the enemy, but discarded by 
the organization. Reliving the terror of that moment in January, 
when Biichner, the Jugoslav, now dead, opened the door of the 
Via Chelini flat and unwittingly admitted disaster, Furman 
listened tensely as Peppina, the maid, crossed the haU. He and 
Renzo heard her open the door, and in the same instant they 
heard her screams. 

A moment later they were racing to the doorway too, for the 
scream was not of terror but of joy. Smiling in the doorway stood 
Lieutenant Simpson. 

Furman and Lucidi dragged him in, detached the tearful Pep- 
pina from his shoulder, and pumped both hands at once. In a 
flood of relief they admitted to each other for the first time then- 
fear that Simpson had been nearer than any of them to the firing- 
squad. 

Beaming at the warmth of his reception, Simpson was 
astonished when at last he learned of the complications caused 
by his adherence to his false Irish identity, or what Furman called 
his "change of cognomt" 

Until Furman and Lucidi made it clear to him, he had no idea 
how lucky he had been to be left behind when the Germans sud- 
denly withdrew their guards, and handed over to Fascist thugs 
who promptly deserted. Rome was clearly going to be unhealthy 
for any known Fascist. Members of the Italian underground who 
had been imprisoned took over, but knowing that the Germans 
remained fully in control of the city, they wisely arranged an or- 
ganized and disciplined release scheme. 

The first to leave were those who had homes near by, but high 
priority was given to Allied cx-prisoners-of-war. Simpson was 
among these, but the reason he took so long to return to the fold 
was completely characteristic of the man. He was released from 
the prison with others, and he placed them all in safe billets be- 
fore finding a bed for the night for himself. Under the noses of 
the Germans flocking the streets, he had emerged from prison, 
and gone straight back into action as a billeting officer without 
even waiting until he had reported his release. 
Leaving Simpson with the wildly elated Lucidis, Lieutenant 



OPEN CITY 221 

Furman set off to convoy the good news to me, but the German 
sentries still stood grimly at their posts in St Peter's Square, and 
the gates were guarded as firmly as ever. Furman had to be con- 
tent with leaving a message, and on his way home he received 
another sharp reminder that the Germans were still masters of 
Rome. 

A German soldier prodded him with a pistol, and commanded, 
"Run ! Run ! Early curfew to-night !" It was too much for Fur- 
man, and he kept on walking, but he realized, as he paced de- 
liberately away from the scowling sentry, how silly it would be if, 
after all that had happened, he died with a bullet in his back 
for no better reason than that he insisted on moving slowly away 
from a German. 

Simpson remained at the Via Scialoia flat, where, ironically, 
the Lucidis were also harbouring the two civilian internees who 
had been released from the Regina Coeli, at Dr Cipolla's random 
request, in place of Lieutenant Simpson and Captain Armstrong. 
Simpson still did not know that he owed his life to Monsignor 
O'Flaherty's arrangements with Piedro Koch, but if the mon- 
signor had not been aware of Simpson's assumed name he might 
not have been left behind by the Germans. In a few days we had 
a tragic reminder of this. 

The success of the contract between the monsignor and the 
Fascist had, in fact, been considerable. Including the escapers, 
nearly seventy people were left behind in the prisons, and found 
their way to freedom, but as a last gesture of sadistic defiance 
against the humiliating end to their long domination of the Eternal 
City, the Germans took one group of prisoners from the Regina 
Coeli on the road to the north. 

Five miles outside Rome the following day, fourteen bullet- 
riddled bodies were found. Among them was that of the officer 
we had come so close to saving Captain John Armstrong. 



13 



Liberation 



THE sun edged over the hazy eastern hills, and the great cross 
of St Peter's seemed to gleam as it had never seemed to gleam 
before. The long night was over, yet dawn came to a strangely 
silent Rome on June 4, 1 944. 

The streets and squares were empty, and even the tireless Tiber 
looked still, but this was not the sullen silence of resignation to 
doom. It was a breathless pause, a silence of expectancy, welling 
up behind windows shuttered against the possibility of street fight- 
ing, behind tremulous lips that would laugh, and eyes that would 
weep for joy at the first sign that the dream was reality and the 
day of liberation had really dawned. All over Rome there were 
people who, like Sir D'Arcy Osborne, Mr Hugh Montgomery, 
Father Owen Snedden and myself, now stood waiting by high 
windows, having risen early, or perhaps not slept at all, in order 
not to miss the magical moment that marked the return of peace 
and dignity to Rome. 

Our little group, on the topmost floor of the erstwhile hospice 
housing the British Legation, waited in strained silence. Our eyes 
were glued on the farthest corner of the wide road along which we 
had seen so many men and machines stream northward in the last 
few days. Suddenly a line of vehicles swept into view, following 
the same familiar course but with such a difference : these were 
pursuers, not pursued. It was the veritable point of the Allied spear- 
head, an American tank-busting unit of about thirty vehicles, 
including a jeep bearing the single star of a brigadier, and I, who 
had never come across the American forces in battle before, 
thought it was quite the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. 

Diplomat and butler, soldier and priest, felt a surge of common 
emotion : cheering, clapping, slapping each other on the back, 
shaking hands, laughing wildly, and all talking at once, we seemed 
to throw off in an instant the strain that had settled on us all. 
The reservation of the diplomat, the caution of the soldier, the 
calm of the priest, were alike swallowed up in a giddy whirlpool 
of delight and relief. 



LIBERATION 223 

In a matter of minutes all Rome became flooded by a pleasant 
pandemonium. Into the great square of St Peter's swept tens of 
thousands of happy Italians, anxious, as in all moments of crisis, 
grave or gay, to receive the blessing of their Pope; British and 
American flags, home-made from rags or painted paper, fluttered 
out from windows everywhere; the summer morning air tingled 
and vibrated with an unforgettable murmur of welcome and 
thanksgiving. This, I thought, must be the best reward for taking 
arms on the side of honour and justice to be welcomed, not as 
conquerors, glamorized for a moment by the tinsel and glitter of 
conquest, but as liberators. 

Yet this was no time for philosophy. In the city local govern- 
ment had evaporated, and all public services were out of action. 
In my office the carefully-preserved organization was in danger 
of sliding into chaos, for past orders were easily forgotten by 
escapers who realized that they would soon be able to return to 
their own families. 

Lieutenant Colin Lesslie descended from 6 up the hill,' the only 
major billet in the city which from first to last had avoided a raid, 
to find out what to do with the large group of escapers under his 
command. 

"Keep 'em there for the time being," I instructed. "But what 
about Anderson, the lad who had the appendix operation and a 
somewhat mobile convalescence ? I suppose we'd better send an 
ambulance up to collect him." 

"Not a bit of it," replied Lesslie. "Recovery complete. He's 
walking about with the best of them ! " 

Lieutenant John Furman renewed old acquaintance with Mon- 
signor O'Flaherty's office, the entrances to the Collegio Teutoni- 
cum having been reopened at once, but found to his disgust that 
he was still unable to get past the Vatican Gendarmerie to the 
British Legation. I sent him details of a plan which we had already 
worked out, realizing that when liberation came the organization 
would need its own headquarters in the city, and he went off with 
authority to requisition an appropriate centre before other units 
snapped up all the most convenient accommodation. Furman 
had already earmarked the very place a luxury flat on the 
ground floor of the block where the Lucidis lived. Its tenants 
had been a well-known Fascist family, and, as Furman expected, 
they promptly moved north when the Allies drew near. He 



224 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

requisitioned it, moved in, and started working at once, making 
his first task the obtaining of extra rations for the families who 
had helped us through the dark days. 

Ignoring the order to remain at their billets, escapers from all 
over Rome started calling at the Vatican guardrooms for in- 
structions, and to avoid wasting further time, I arranged with 
the guards to tell all such visitors to go on living where they were 
until further notice. 

As soon as I could get away from the legation, I set off with 
John May in his little car, which for so many months had been 
confined within the walls of the Vatican, with the idea of making 
a tour of as many of the billets as possible. It gave me a strange 
thrill to drive in broad daylight through the gates that I had last 
entered five months earlier in the garments of a monsignor, head 
bowed. 

Rome was hard to recognize. The tall colonnades around St 
Peter's Square, which had always been a place of shadows, subter- 
fuge and German sentries, were thronging with happily chatter- 
ing Italians; the streets, empty of trams and buses, were crowded 
with people, and festooned with the red, white, and blue of the 
Union Jack and "Old Glory." 

My aim was to go from billet to billet, instructing the escapers 
to remain where they were, and pointing out that if they linked 
up with any unit on their own they might delay their repatriation, 
and would certainly complicate the interrogation work which 
would have to be carried out. But I was able to call at relatively 
few billets, because every Italian family, free for the first time in 
many months from the nagging fear of torture and death, wished 
only to celebrate the liberation, and my visit as commander of the 
Rome Organization seemed to provide a welcome excuse for a 
party with a startling rate of ^mo-consumption. Remembering 
these simple, kindly folk only from the time when they had hastily 
and fearfully admitted me after a secret ring at the door, I was 
astonished by the warmth of their welcome, and it seemed that 
every one of our 'padrones' had carefully buried at least one 
bottle of good wine for just such an occasion. 

Glad that John May was driving, I returned to the Vatican 
to find that the genial confusion and gaiety which was transform- 
ing Rome had spread like a fever into the British Legation. After 
several years as a diplomatic backwater, the legation was now 



LIBERATION 225 

the one place in Rome that was generally expected to be able to 
do anything for everybody, and a constant flow of visitors mingled 
with a flood of telephone calls, messages, and requests from the 
Vatican Secretariat of State. 

There were visitors for me, too, including a senior British 
Military Intelligence officer, with whom I naturally had a good 
deal to discuss. Brother Robert Pace called after emerging from 
hiding and then set off to visit all his old billets. 

So many people were calling to see the Minister that John May 
found difficulty in finding room for them, and had them waiting 
in odd parts of the legation, including my room. I was eating an 
early lunch when John May ushered in a British civilian, and 
said by way of introduction and apology, "Mr Caccia is calling 
on the Minister. There's nowhere else I can ask him to wait." I 
greeted the visitor casually, and got on with my meal, but I might 
have been less off-hand if I had realized that this was the first 
senior representative of the Foreign Office to arrive in Rome 
the man who, as Sir Harold Caccia, was later to become Britain's 
Ambassador to the United States. 

In the mounting turmoil the Secretariat of State expected Sir 
D'Arcy Osborne to make his first priority the preservation of the 
strict neutrality of the Vatican, particularly since the Germans 
had taken a leaf out of the British book, closing their embassy in 
Rome, and moving a reduced diplomatic staff into the Vatican 
itself. Both British and German Ministries were now within its 
high walls. 

Demands poured in from the Secretariat on Sir D'Arcy. The 
Secretariat wanted safe conduct for their supply convoys in and 
out of Rome, and passes for their servants, and they demanded 
immediate removal of the army vehicles, which had parked in 
St Peter's Square for the occupants to go sight-seeing and they 
did not fail to remind the Minister that the Germans had never 
permitted such a violation of the piazza. Difficulties were in- 
creased by the fact that the Vatican authorities were already 
slightly testy with the British, because in the fighter sweeps over 
northern Italy, after the fall of Cassino, a few of their road con- 
voys had been mildly shot up. These vehicles, which took supplies 
to monasteries or guards on leave in Switzerland, were all painted 
yellow and white, with the idea of giving them immunity, and 
Sir D'Arcy had, in fact, made strenuous efforts through the 



226 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Foreign Office to ensure their protection, but mistakes were bound 
to occur. 

Most of the requests flooding in on Sir D'Arc/s tiny staff were 
reasonable enough, but his chief problem was that he had no link 
with the new Military Government of Rome. That was why the 
Minister sent for me, and asked me to act as liaison officer be- 
tween the legation and the Rome Area Command. Thus I found 
myself appointed temporary military attach^ to the Holy See. 

This was agreeable, because I regained my identity, becoming 
at last an official resident of the legation where for so long I had 
been a diplomatic secret a ghost neither seen nor acknowledged 
and a new and perfectly genuine pass was issued in my name. 
"Mr Deny," it said in Italian, "is employed by the British Lega- 
tion to the Holy See, and has liberty to pass into and out of the 
Vatican." So far as the Secretariat was concerned, I had moved 
into Rome with the skeleton military staffs, which had been wait- 
ing for weeks, ready to re-establish local government and public 
services as soon as the Allies marched in. These men were now 
engaged on the gigantic task of restoring water and electricity 
supplies, bringing trams and buses back into operation, setting up 
a food-rationing system, and substituting Allied lire (already in 
use throughout the southern part of Italy), for the existing mone- 
tary system. 

Armed with my new Vatican papers and a letter from the 
British Minister, I visited the offices of the various military 
authorities, and obtained from them passes which enabled me to 
go anywhere. One problem was to establish contact between the 
legation and the new police authorities. Leaving my office one 
day to arrange this, I found myself face to face with Lieutenant- 
Colonel R. T. Mfflhouse, D.C.M., whom I had last seen in the 
uniform of chief constable of my home town, 
"I thought you were in Newark !" I said, delighted to see him. 
"I expect you did," he grinned, "but I knew damned well 
where you were !" Colonel Millhouse had arrived to take over as 
public safety officer (chief of police services), for the provinces of 
Lazia and Umbria, and our meeting resulted in the slashing of 
the red tape for the issue of passes and permits for Rome Or- 
ganization helpers. 

Shortly afterwards I was warned to be on call for a V.I.P. 
who was expected at the legation, and when I was summoned 



LIBERATION 22? 

to the Minister's office I found myself face to face with the Allied 
Commander-in-Chief, General (later Field-Marshal Viscount) 
Alexander. It was a slightly embarrassing moment, because the 
general, rated by many as Britain's greatest soldier of the war, 
was neat and 'properly dressed,' by the best military standard, 
while I wore a tight blue suit, with a gusset let into the seat of the 
trousers. It was a rather bizarre ending to a bizarre command, 
for I had taken over while wearing a priest's soutane, and was 
now making my report to my Commander-in-Chief wearing 
clothes in which I had to sit down with caution. 

Any discomfiture, however, was outweighed by pleasure at the 
warmth of the general's appreciation of the work of the Rome 
Organization, for it was clear that he had known a great deal of 
what had been going on behind enemy lines even before Sir 
D'Arcy Osborne filled in the gaps for him. The interview was 
significant, because it marked the end of the organization as we 
knew it, and the simultaneous beginning of a new organization, 
which was to go on for more than two years. 

The general's main concern was for those who had risked their 
lives and suffered loss to help us. All the escapers would be trans- 
ferred as soon as we could marshal them to a repatriation unit, 
which already existed in embryo, and would be returned to their 
vfamilies with a minimum of delay, but General Alexander was 
anxious that those who through dangerous months had made their 
repatriation possible should not be foigotten. He asked me to set 
up an ad hoc organization which would collect evidence, pend- 
ing the establishment of a new unit, to recompense helpera and 
it was a request, not an order. 

"I'd like to stay, sir," I said, and I meant it. Much as the 
thought of home appealed to me, I could not bear the idea of 
walking out on all the loyal helpers who had made the organiza- 
tion's work possible, without first trying to do something to ensure 
that they were compensated. I was pretty sure that Lieutenants 
Simpson and Furman would be of the same mind, even though 
they had suffered more than I, and had even stronger cause for 
repatriation. I was not mistaken. They moved into the new flat 
at Via Scialoia, where they were joined by Captain Byrnes, with 
his exhumed records, and the indefatigable Greek, Theodore 
Mdetiou, and together they started on the work straight away. 

We were a unique unit (as I suppose we always had been), 



228 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

answerable to none of the various authorities in Rome. General 
Alexander had ordered me to make my reports direct to the office 
of his Chief-of-Staff, General (later Field-Marshal Sir John) 
Harding, and results were rapid. I received an order establishing 
a ration strength of ten for the new unit, and giving authority for 
the requisitioning of property and the drawing of supplies, includ- 
ing the invaluable, and otherwise unobtainable, petrol and oil. 

Our first task, naturally, was handing over escapers. The Allies 
had arrived prepared for a giant and virtually unprecedented 
job, and one of the first headquarters established in the city was 
that of the Repatriation Unit, geared ready to house, clothe, feed, 
interrogate, and generally administer thousands of escapers and 
evaders. 

The unit established itself in a barracks, and took over camps 
as transit bases for the temporary accommodation of the ex- 
prisoners. By the time of the liberation, the Rome Organization 
had on its books the names of 3925 escapers and evaders, of 
whom 1695 were British, 896 South African, 429 Russian, 425 
Greek, 185 American, and the rest from no fewer than twenty 
different countries. Fewer than 200 were billeted actually in 
Rome, but of the thousands in the 'country branch' most, by far, 
were in the rural areas immediately surrounding the city, scattered 
in groups varying in size from three to more than a hundred. 

We handed over responsibility immediately for this under- 
ground army, but it was not quite so easy to hand over the men 
themselves, for after months of confinement they not unnaturally 
wanted a day or two to celebrate, before they reported to the 
formidable looking barracks. Those men who had been 'living 
rough' in the country were glad to move into the camps estab- 
lished for them, but the 'Romans' were not so keen. Most of them 
were living in comfortable private homes, now without fear of 
arrest for themselves or retribution for their hosts, and they had 
money of their own to spend. 

This was because we had paid out, at the beginning of the 
month, subsistence allowances sufficient to keep them going for a 
fortnight and the liberation had come a couple of days later. 
They very nearly had twice as much, for Lieutenant Funnan 
wrote on May 29 : 

In favour of a full month is the fact that should our condition 
not be changed by June 15, circulation to distribute the money 



LIBERATION 22Q 

may well prove more than hazardous. If our condition has 
changed, then we shall be somewhat out of pocket, but either the 
chaps themselves or their 'padrones' will benefit a not altogether 
undesirable circumstance. So, on the whole, I favour a full month's 
payment. 

This was eloquent advocacy, but I was confident of an immi- 
nent liberation, and I could not take as philanthropic a view of 
the distribution of the Government money as Furman, so I ordered 
payment for a fifteen-day period. It proved more than enough. 
With money in their pockets, freedom to move about as they 
wished, and the Italian summer sun shining on a Rome bubbling 
with the spirit of festa, our 'Romans' found it convenient to 
obey the last order they had received, which was to remain at 
their existing billets until further notice. They guessed, quite 
rightly, that it would take time and effort before fresh orders 
arrived. 

Nevertheless, the Allied Repatriation Unit was so thoroughly 
prepared for its task that within a week all the escapers and 
evaders from the Rome area were transferred to Naples, whence 
they were, with very little delay, shipped home. In the short time 
that they were at the transit camps every one was interrogated 
by intelligence officers flown in from Ban, and extracts from 
their reports were sent to help the new organization in recording 
assistance given by Italians to the Allied cause. 

The Allied Repatriation Unit subsequently functioned all over 
the world, dealing with many thousands of prisoners released or 
left behind by retreating (and later defeated) Germans and 
Japanese, but it was in Rome that it had its first operational ex- 
perience, and I like to imagine that nowhere did it meet a stranger 
situation than in the Eternal City, where in one small area, nearly 
4000 men had all been at large for months under the noses of the 
enemy. 

The escaper most quickly reunited with his family was Lieu- 
tenant Paul Freyberg. General Freyberg came by car into Rome 
to collect his son, and a few days later Lady Freyberg opened a 
club in the city for New Zealand forces. In a note to me later 
Lieutenant Paul Freyberg wrote : 

I hope you are hanging, drawing, and quartering all the various 
bastards who caused us annoyance, and that the old chestnut 
about the Mills of God will for once come true. 



THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

I was still aware that there was a war to be fought and won, 
but to the Romani, it was all over. To them, it was the past that 
mattered, and the only thing demanding urgent attention was 
the punishment of the collaborators and denouncers. "What are 
you doing about Perfetti?" I was asked two dozen times a day. 
Italians began to seek me out simply to tell me, repeatedly and 
insistently, "You must have so-and-so arrested at once." 

I was pretty sure that the mills would, in due course, grind 
exceeding small; and, in fact, retribution was catching up with 
the delinquents one by one. Piedro Koch, the Fascist master- 
torturer, had been overtaken on his way north, and was sub- 
sequently shot. Since his wife and mother had made their own 
way south to Naples, Monsignor O'Flaherty was relieved of his 
obligation to hide them in a religious house, but they were, of 
course, quite safe, since the Allies did not shoot women for the 
offences of their husbands and sons. Pasqualino Perfetti and his 
old associate, Aldo Zambardi, were both arrested, and thrown 
into the Regina Coeli, to which their denunciations, particularly 
Perfettfs, had condemned so many Italians and escapers only a 
few weeks earlier. These two had been my first contacts on enter- 
ing the town, and, personally, I owed a good deal to them, but 
it had not taken me long to discover that Perfetti's motive was 
not a desire to help the ex-prisoners so much as an affection for 
the money which it brought him. Zambardi's denunciations had 
been few compared with the bogus priest's, but, on the other 
hand, it could at least be said for Perfetti that he had been badly 
beaten up before he started his long tour, guiding the Germans 
to the billets, whereas Zambardi, once he had been implicated 
by Perfetti, told the little that he knew without further 'per- 
suasion/ There were, as might be expected, many families in 
Rome whose chief ambition was to lynch Perfetti, but he was 
transferred to a prison in Milan, after threats by the Romans to 
burn the hated Regina Coeli to the ground, and that was the last 
I heard of him. 

Dr Cipofla, the unashamed double-agent, made no attempt to 
get out of Rome, and was consequently arrested. I was satisfied 
that in all his intrigues he had never done anything to harm the 
organization or Allied ex-prisoners. Indeed, apart from his con- 
siderable, if self-interested, assistance at a time when a change of 
control in Rome was obviously near, he had helped Monsignor 



LIBERATION 23! 

O'Flaherty before my arrival, and was instrumental in obtaining 
the Via Chelini flat. However, the Italians had some scores to 
settle with him, and he came up for trial. Through Renzo Lucidi, 
we ensured that the brighter side of Cipolla's case was made 
known, and he escaped with his life, although he was sentenced 
to a pretty savage term of twenty-four years' imprisonment. 

During the dark days of the organization it had once seemed 
that everybody was denouncing everybody else, and now it all 
happened again. Many denunciations were made in an under- 
standable spirit of revenge, but a fair proportion of them were 
aimed at throwing a smoke-screen over the denouncer's own mis- 
deeds, and I watched the tide of recrimination with mixed feel- 
ings. 

The case of Cipolla was an example of the problem set by 
people who had, at various times served both sides, for those 
now denounced were rarely, like Koch, completely evil, but 
only characteristically human a mixture of good and bad. Those 
who knew only one side of Dr Cipolla's activities, for instance, 
thought that he should be shot at once, but those who knew only 
of the other thought he should be given a medal. Aware of some- 
thing of both sides, I could only ensure that those who sat in 
judgment were given as balanced a view as possible, and informed 
of any good work done for the organization. Quite often I had 
deliberately accepted assistance from dubious characters; more 
than once I had been surprised at the good results. 

There was, for example, the case of Jack S. I had first heard of 
him around Christmas-time, while I was still moving about in 
Rome. Brother Robert Pace reported that this man was very 
anxious to help in the organization's work, and could be very 
useful, as he had a flat, a car, and a permit to use it. On hearing 
this I bristled with suspicions as sharp as the quills of an angry 
porcupine, for anyone who was permitted to run a car was work- 
ing for the Germans or the Fascists, so I urged Brother Robert, 
"Don't have anything to do with this chap at all." 

Soon afterwards I discovered by accident that Jack S. was, in 
fact, being used to bring escapers to Rome, and find billets, and 
when I taxed Brother Robert about this he replied somewhat 
sheepishly, "He is very good, and he can get around. But he would 
very much like to meet somebody in authority." 

"No doubt," I replied, "but he isn't going to. If you must use 



232 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

him don't let him know anything about anybody. Let him look 
after the people he brings into Rome and places in billets him- 
self , but no more," 

I was still sure Jack S. was a potential danger, although I gave 
up hope of convincing the trusting Brother Robert. Surprisingly, 
however, the scheme seemed to work, and I sent money through 
Brother Robert, who regularly reported back on the good work 
that Jack S. was doing for him never without mentioning that 
he was still most anxious to meet somebody in authority. I con- 
tinued to ward off these requests, but they still turned up even 
after I had withdrawn to the British Legation. 

Towards the end of February Brother Robert casually men- 
tioned to Lieutenant Simpson that he might meet Jack S., but 
Simpson, cautious as ever, asked me for information first. 

I have never met this man [I replied], although he tried many 
times to see me. However, he has done much for our boys in the 
last few months. There is quite a lot of his story that does not fit 
in, and I know quite a lot about him that I cannot put on paper, 
so be careful of anything you tell him. Also, warn any of our 
boys who are put with him to be sure not to talk of the organiza- 
tion or say where any of their friends live. However, I do not wish 
to upset him, as he has certainly done some excellent work. 

Simpson replied four days later : 

I have not met this individual yet and am not particularly 
keen. "Edmund" told me yesterday that he had told his boys not 
to speak about the gang to J.S., but apparently some had already 
said so much though nothing very important. 

Shortly afterwards, through sudden pressure on billets, Simpson 
passed three escapers to Jack S. through "Edmund" (Father 
Madden) without making direct contact. 

Then Jack S. was arrested, exactly as I had expected, for when- 
ever the Germans succeeded in placing a stool-pigeon in an under- 
ground organization they usually 'arrested' him when the time 
came for him to present his detailed report. In that way the 
people on whom he had been spying might be hood-winked, and 
the man would be available for further service. 

All the billets known to Jack S. were immediately evacuated, 
and a warning sent to Brother Robert, Father Madden, and all 
the others who had been in contact with him, to be on their guard. 



LIBERATION 

Much to my surprise, as the weeks went by, not one of the 
billets known to Jack S. was raided, and he remained in custody 
instead of emerging to guide the Gestapo from place to place. I 
became increasingly curious, and eventually learned through the 
police contacts that Jack S. had been tortured and badly beaten 
up, but had divulged nothing about the organization. Concluding 
that I had misjudged my man, as I had Joe Pollak, I was de- 
lighted when, on the liberation, Jack S. was found to be among 
those left alive in the Regina Coeli. 

A few days after the Allied occupation I was walking with a 
senior official of the Foreign Office in the garden of the old 
British Embassy, now being prepared for re-opening, when my 
companion produced a list of names, and handed it to me. 

"These are all renegade British subjects who have, to our know- 
ledge, worked with the enemy," he said. "We are rather anxious 
to get our hands on them. Know anything about any of them ?" 

I glanced at the piece of paper, and right at the top of the 
list saw the name of Jack S. 

"I can put my hand on this one straight away," I said, "though 
I never knew he was a British subject. I thought he was Italian." 

"Born in London," the Foreign Office official replied. "His 
father was of Italian descent, but one hundred per cent. British 
in outlook, and has done a lot of jolly good work. This lad didn't 
share his father's loyalty, but offered his services to the Italians 
as soon as they entered the war, collected some forged documents 
from the Italian Embassy before it put up the dust-sheets, and left 
in the last trainload of diplomats on their way back here." 

"I always thought there must be somehthing odd about him," 
I said, "but he has done a lot of very good work for me. Why 
should the Foreign Office be so keen on grabbing him ?" 

The official looked at me coldly. "Didn't you know," he asked 
with incredulity, "that this man was the 'Cockney Broadcaster 
of Rome'?" 

I was astonished. I was well aware that William Joyce, the 
"Lord Haw-Haw" of German propaganda broadcasts, was by 
no means the only British subject to have acted as a radio mouth- 
piece for the enemy, and I had heard of his cockney counterpart 
on Rome Radio, but it had never occurred to me that this man 
might be in my own organization. 

Jack S. was, of course, arrested, because his propaganda 



234 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

broadcasts, while of much less significance than those from Ger- 
many, still constituted high treason. But I could not forget that 
he had worked hard for British ex-prisoners over a long and dan- 
gerous period, and when at last the test had come he had shown 
selfless courage in refusing to denounce the British Organization, 
in spite of torture. I put this side of his activities before the 
authorities as strongly as I could, and eventually, unlike William 
Joyce, a Fascist with no saving graces, Jack S. did not go to the 
gallows. In fact, he was not even sent back to Britain to stand 
trial. The eminently reasonable decision made was that he should 
remain in internment until the Allies left Italy, and then be re- 
leased, but warned that if he ever set foot on British territory any- 
where in the world he would be arrested and tried for treason. 

If the liberation brought some shady characters into the lime- 
light it also allowed the secret agents with more honourable back- 
grounds to emerge at last from the underground. Into the light, 
for instance, came the picturesquely titled Liberty or Death 
movement of fearless Greeks, who had helped our organization 
from the earliest days, and whose finances, in return, had been 
backed by the British Government. As the Allies marched into 
Rome, the Liberty or Death agents had little silver badges made 
and displayed them proudly in their buttonholes. 

Lieutenants Simpson, Furman, and myself were each pre- 
sented with one of these badges, and became the first Britons in 
a Greek organization, most of whose members, alas, were to have 
angry things to say about Britain when disputes arose over Cyprus 
after the war. Indeed, throughout the life of the Rome Organiza- 
tion one of our staunchest and most gallant allies against the 
common enemy, was the man who became Greek Foreign 
Minister and one of our bitterest opponents over Cyprus Angelo 
Averoff. 

The friendship and, indeed, affection between us was typified 
by the letter which Angelo Averoff sent me with the silver badge: 

We have the honour and the pleasure to inform you that the 
executive committee of the organization of Liberty or Death, in 
full agreement with its supreme adviser, the ex-Minister for the 
Air Force, Mr Alexander Zannas, has elected you as an honorary 
member of the above, our organization. This is quite a natural 
thing after such a collaboration, full of friendship that loyal 
friendship which characterizes the relations between our two 



LIBERATION 235 

countries. We beg to enclose herewith the distinctive of the Liberty 
or Death a distinctive which was concealed up to this day, and 
which we can finally bear. 

For Lieutenant Furman, it was a second "distinctive," for he 
already had his own in the form of a little Union Jack brooch, 
which he had taken to wearing under his lapel during the last 
few weeks, and which was, in fact, in its place on both recent 
occasions when he was stopped and asked for his papers. This, 
of course, he had not mentioned to me in his reports, any more 
than that he had taken to carrying a tiny pistol, for he knew that 
my reaction would have been unequivocal. If he had been 
searched either brooch or pistol, and certainly the combination of 
the two, would have been a death warrant. 

In the turmoil of the first couple of days we had so much to 
do that there was no time for relaxation and reunions, but there 
were some periods when I deliberately pushed work aside, no 
matter how pressing, and that was when the B.B.C. war news was 
due. Only a couple of days after the liberation of Rome, Father 
Snedden and I were having a quiet drink with John May, when 
we were electrified to hear the first announcement of Allied 
landings in Normandy, and although the brief statement gave no 
indication that this was the opening of the long-awaited "Second 
Front," the fact that it was headed "Communique No. i" made 
it clear to any soldier that it was more than just another coast 
raid. 

By evening it was obvious that the Allies, in full force, were 
fighting their way back into Northern Europe, and with the joy 
of the Rome liberation still warm within us, we felt that now the 
time had come for the party we had all been promising ourselves. 
With Lieutenants Furman and Simpson, Renzo and Adrienne 
Lucidi, the American Lieutenant Dukate, and other escapers still 
in Rome, plus a good number of the Italian girls who had been 
among our helpers, I launched the biggest party the Rome Or- 
ganization ever knew. Memories flooded back as we ate and 
drank in the Grand Hotel, which Furman, Simpson, and I could 
still picture vividly under very different circumstances, crowded 
with German officers and leading Fascists. In the pleasant bar of 
the Orso our friend the barman, Felix, had proudly erected a 
notice informing his customers that the bar was regularly patron- 
ized by British officers during the German occupation, and to 



236 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

endorse the claim the three of us signed this notice, which was a 
showpiece when the bar ultimately became an officers' club. 

As the British Minister's attach^, I came to the conclusion that 
it was not fitting for the chief representative of H.M. Government 
to remain without transport of his own. Besides, he was finding it 
increasingly difficult to make all the calls demanded of him, and 
after all we had authority from the highest military level to re- 
quisition enemy property. 

Armed with the necessary papers, I therefore looked around 
for a car for Sir D'Arcy, and it was not long before my eye fell 
upon the gleaming giant left in Rome by Prince Bismarck, to 
whom (though he did not know it) we were already substantially 
indebted. It was a stupendous vehicle, specially built with a highly 
polished aluminium Heinkel body wrapped round an enormous 
Lancia engine. It had flamboyant, sweeping lines, four head- 
lights at the front, and another on each side of the windscreen, 
and every conceivable embellishment and extra comfort. 

It was, I thought, the most beautiful motor-car I had ever seen, 
so I requisitioned it on the spot, swept away in it to the Vatican, 
and proudly produced it to the Minister. Like me, he needed 
only a single glance at the magnificent monster to make up his 
mind. 

"Thank you, Major Deny," he said, with a perceptible 
shudder, "but do you think you could find me something a little 
less er spectacular ?" 

I was only too happy to oblige, for after a couple of miles at 
the wheel of this 'Silver Bullet' I was filled with covetousness, so 
I went out again, and collected a sober, stately limousine for Sir 
D'Arcy tut kept the 'Silver Bullet' for myself. 

I was on a journey in it one day, accompanied by a girl from 
the American Embassy, when I picked up a British corporal who 
had thumbed a lift. As we drove along I asked him casually 
where he lived. 

"Oh, you wouldn't know it, sir," he replied deprecatingly. "It's 
a little place in Nottinghamshire called Newark." 

"Why, that's my home too ! " I exclaimed. 

"And mine," said the girl, in a strong American drawl. We 
looked at her blankly. "Newark, New Jersey," she added. 

The car remained with me for as long as I stayed in Rome. 
Prince Bismarck apparently nursed an affection for it, because 



LIBERATION 237 

some years later he asked the British authorities if he could have 
it back. He was unsuccessful, I fear, for the officer in whose 
charge I left it had underestimated its power at a particularly 
sharp bend, and bent it beyond repair. 

In the search for transport during the early days of the Allied 
occupation the officers of the Rome Organization naturally had 
a considerable advantage over those newly arrived in the city. 
Just as we knew where to find the excellent flats vacated by de- 
parted Fascists, we were able to lay our hands on enemy-owned 
cars, which had been stowed away in 'safe' hiding-places. With- 
in hours of receiving permission to requisition, our organization 
was fully mobile, although not all the cars were gleaming giants. 

Our knowledge of Rome helped us to overcome problems more 
difficult than the finding of cars and flats. There was the small 
matter of the odd 100,000 lire, borrowed in the dark days of 
January against a contract which I had signed, undertaking to 
repay in sterling within five days of the liberation. Anxious to 
honour this contract, I ran up against the very obstacle I had 
foreseen when the British military banking authority refused 
point-blank to release sterling under any circumstances. This prob- 
lem was by no means insurmountable for an organization as 
skilled as ours in black-market dealing, for we knew that floating 
around was a good deal of English currency, which had been 
smuggled in or illegally cashed by Allied troops at an attractive 
rate of exchange. Our Italian contacts were therefore set to work 
in the channels they knew so well, and by the next day we had 
enough British notes to repay the debt in full. 

Another debt, incalculable, and perhaps never quite repayable, 
still remained our debt to those who risked everything to help 
us. The erstwhile Rome Organization was able and happy to 
help in this task. We were undergoing a metamorphosis, and 
emerged as the prototype of a new organization that was to oper- 
ate all over the world as the cannon quietened and shattered 
cities came back to life. Sir D'Arcy Osborne and I had foreseen 
the need, and had discussed it frequently. We planned the broad 
outlines of what I had described to Lieutenant Furman as "the 
commission," while at the War Office, the Deputy Director of 
Military Intelligence, Brigadier Norman Crocket, C.B.E., D.S.O., 
M.G., to whom all reports of the organization's work had found 
their way, spent many hours working out the details, and the 



238 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE 

Gommander-in-Chief himself had given it much thought, as was 
evident in my interview with him. 

Thus the ad hoc organization at the Via Scialoia flat had 
powerful backing, and to this was rapidly added the support of 
the various military organizations established in Rome. The Rome 
Area Command had scarcely settled in the city before it found 
itself deluged with appeals from Italians bearing promises of 
monetary payment, commendations for good service, and lOU's 
on odd scraps of paper signed by British servicemen. The Rome 
Organization had never issued chits of this sort, but many in- 
dividual escapers had given them to Italians who had helped 
them. 

It was, I think, a great advantage for the Rome Area Com- 
mand to know that there was a unit to which the flood of chits 
could be diverted, and one that could deal with the steady stream 
of complaints from Italians who had been forced into hiding, and 
now wished to give information against collaborators. To our 
headquarters were diverted also the hundreds of Italians who, 
immediately after the liberation, began to besiege Monsignor 
O'Flaherty's office with appeals for some form of recognition 
that they had been good patriots. 

The key to the truth of most of these claims still lay buried in 
the Vatican gardens, so, as unobtrusively as we had planted them, 
we unearthed the biscuit-tins containing the records of eight in- 
credible months, and in our new task the bits and pieces of in- 
formation that had been crammed into these tins proved to be 
buried treasure indeed. 

During the months at the British Legation, just within the 
southern wall of the Vatican, I had often conjectured about that 
part of the city-state, hidden from my view by the vast basilica 
of St Peter's, which housed the looo-room Papal Palace that 
occupies a tenth of the entire state's no acres. The chance to see 
for myself came one day when things were running smoothly, 
and the First Secretary, Mr Hugh Montgomery, a devout 
Catholic, invited me to go with him for a Papal audience. 

With Mr Montgomery and Colonel Miflhouse, I went through 
the great bronze doors at the northern end of the fagade of St 
Peter's, up the long, wide stairs, and through a succession of 
chambers and galleries ornamented with the most magnificent 
frescoes and tapestries. It has been said that this vast palace 



LIBERATION 1239 

contains more objects of intrinsic beauty than any other in the 
world. 

In the heart of the Vatican we were ushered away from the 
throne-room into a small anteroom. There we waited in silence, 
conscious of the majesty of our surroundings, and of the fact 
that we were being accorded the rare privilege of a private audi- 
ence. 

Anxious to do the right thing, though unaware of what was 
expected of me, I was taken completely by surprise by the Holy 
Father's entrance. I had rather expected that the double doors 
would open grandly, picturesquely-dressed attendants would 
make ringing announcements, and His Holiness, surrounded by 
retainers, would pace in slowly and solemnly, a picture of grave 
pageantry. In fact, the door was almost flung open, and, as though 
in a bound, the late Pope Pius XII was before us, smiling, ener- 
getic, and unexpectedly human. I found myself half kneeling, 
not knowing what to do next, as I looked for the first time upon 
the scholarly, saintly features of the man who, unknowingly, had 
been my host for so long. 

The piquancy of the situation was intensified when the Holy 
Father addressed a question to me directly which left me tongue- 
tied, but Mr Montgomery, perfect diplomat as always, cut in 
quickly to say, "Major Deny is doing a great deal of work as our 
liaison officer with the new Military Government in Rome." 

His Holiness nodded approvingly, gave me a medallion com- 
memorating the audience, and moved on to Colonel Millhouse, 
leaving me vastly relieved that I had not been forced to depart 
from the truth on such an august occasion. 

For Pope Pius XII, in perfect English, had asked me, "And 
how long have you been in Rome?" 




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